Sometimes a bill is such a good idea that you wonder why it took so long.
This is almost always because legislators themselves may be inconvenienced, even if the public gains.
That’s exactly what happened with Pennsylvania House Bill 2449, which would require members of the House and Senate to post their expenses online, where the public can easily find and review them, on a quarterly basis.
An investigation by Spotlight PA last year revealed an astonishing amount of taxpayer money spent by the state legislature on member expenses: $203 million distributed among 253 members from 2017 to 2020.
This represents over $200,000 per year per member in expenses alone.
That doesn’t include their annual salaries — the third-highest in the nation at around $90,000 — or the salaries of their staff.
No wonder Pennsylvania has one of the most expensive legislatures in the country.
There are good reasons for this: The Commonwealth is one of 10 states with a full-time legislature.
State legislative offices serve voters in many ways, such as helping to obtain public assistance or driver’s licenses, and handling pothole complaints. Not all states work like this.
Pennsylvania is also large enough that many legislators require regular hotel (or apartment) stays to do business in Harrisburg, while serving their districts back home.
All of this doesn’t come cheap, and that’s all the more reason to shine a light on legislators’ spending. Private sector employees must submit detailed expense reports for their bosses to review.
So lawmakers should submit spending to their bosses: the people of Pennsylvania.
These reports should be accurate and complete: no massive expenditures on vague items such as “supplies” or redactions for unspecified legal or privacy issues.
Legislators who spend taxpayers’ money should be prepared to fully explain themselves.
Politicians might fear that such information, if made public, would be unfairly portrayed in ads from rival campaigns.
Voters in remote areas, like Erie, will have to accept that their representation costs more than that of Camp Hill, just across the Susquehanna from the capital. It’s probably no coincidence that the bill’s sponsor — Keith Gillespie, R-York — can easily travel from his district to Harrisburg.
But if making spending public undermines incumbents’ electoral advantages, we certainly won’t complain.
Cynics like to say that when a proposal is bipartisan, people get screwed twice over.
Maybe lawmakers can, for once, prove the cynics wrong.
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette