December 30, 2013 —
HARRISBURG, PA — The Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted this week in favor of two measures that would reduce the numbers of elected state officials. One bill would reduce the number of representatives from 203 to 153. The other bill would reduce the number of senators from 50 to 38.
The senate, however, has not acted on the legislation, and in order for such a size reduction to take hold, it must be passed by both houses and signed by the governor in two consecutive legislatures, and then voted on by residents.
House members voted in favor of the change by a three- to-one margin. Rep. Hal English said, “I am pleased to support this drive as the new technology resources available to us as a society make it easier to reach out to and communicate with constituents. Both of these measures received strong bipartisan support.”
Supporters of the measure say the current size of the legislature, which is the second largest of all 50 states, makes it hard for lawmakers to come to agreement on the important matters facing them.
But opponents of the move say it would put too much power in the hands of urban representatives. Rep. Bob Robbins said it would put rural districts at a disadvantage in dealing with issues such as agriculture.
Rep. Eddie Pashinski said he voted against the measures because, while the redistricting would not occur until after the federal census in 2020, the proposed redistricting process is flawed.
He wrote in a press release, “Under the legislation that just passed the house, the house majority leader and senate president pro tempore would largely determine the new legislative district plan. Gerrymandering is already a serious problem plaguing the commonwealth, and reducing the size of the legislature would allow the majority party to redraw the legislative districts in favor of keeping their legislative seats in lieu of adequately and fairly representing the people of Pennsylvania.”
There is also a concern that legislators would have larger districts with a greater number of constituents; therefore they may argue that they need larger staffs to handle the additional workload, which could end up actually increasing the size of government.
There was also concern among critics that with fewer lawmakers in power, special interests would have even more influence than they do now because there would be fewer people to give money to. Rep. Greg Vitali said, “If we really want to do right by the people we represent, we will direct our efforts to reducing the influence of special-interest money. If you pass this bill, you’re increasing the influence of special interest money.”