Pennsylvania Capitol

Shown is the Pennsylvania Capitol building Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Harrisburg.

HARRISBURG – The state House voted 109-80 Tuesday to pass a measure that would cut 52 members from the House and 12 from the state Senate.

The vote is a step forward, but the measure, with the cuts to the Senate in place, faces an uncertain future. 

Similar legislation passed both chambers of the General Assembly last year but without any proposed cuts to the Senate, which has 50 members.

If the Senate acts on the current form of the legislation, it will need to be passed by the General Assembly again next year before it goes on the ballot for voters.

If the state senators remove the language cutting the Senate seats, it would make the legislation identical to the version passed last year. That amended version of the bill would need to go before the House for another vote to get the measure on the ballot in the 2018 election.

To get a constitutional amendment, like the change to the size of the General Assembly, on the ballot, the legislation must pass in two separate legislative sessions.

When the 50 state senators are added, the Pennsylvania General Assembly, with 253 lawmakers, is the largest full-time legislature in the country. Only New Hampshire has more lawmakers, with 424. New Hampshire’s lawmakers are part-time and are paid $200, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Pennsylvania House members are paid $87,180 annually. Only California pays its state lawmakers more.

State Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford, said that even by trimming 52 members, the Pennsylvania State House would still have more lawmakers than New York’s State Assembly.

If the Legislature loses 52 members, House members will represent an average of about 80,000 constituents, compared to the roughly 60,000 people per legislative district now.

“I proudly cosponsored and voted for the bill to reduce the size of the Legislature,” Roae said. “Almost every aspect of government can be reduced in size and cost, including the Legislature.”

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, expressed a similar sentiment in support of the measure.

Metcalfe said that by supporting the move to reduce the size of the general assembly, lawmakers will be “leading by example” in a way that should be followed by the judiciary and executive branches of government.

Other lawmakers said the move won’t make things better.

State Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence, said that the move would reduce the clout of smaller cities such as New Castle, because they won’t be the focal point of their legislative districts.

Those smaller cities are already struggling and won’t benefit if they don’t have champions in the Legislature, he said.

State Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill, was the author of the bill and he’d urged his colleagues to support it this week. 

Knowles said that there’d been skepticism that lawmakers will follow through on the move to cut the size of the Legislature.

“We take a lot of easy votes,” he said. “This is a tough vote.”

But he said lawmakers should allow voters to decide the matter.

“This is the people’s House, and the people should decide the size of it,” Knowles said.

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.

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