Our opinion: Legislature’s parachute

Let’s hear it for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, which showed us that its members could practice frugality in the face of hard times.

A report approved by the Legislative Audit Advisory Committee shows that the legislature cut its spending in 2013 from $307 million in 2012 to $301 million last year. That’s a nearly 2 percent reduction in spending, an admirable achievement.

Or, it would be, if the money were returned to the Treasury.

It was not.

The lawmakers tucked it into their piggy bank, a reserve fund that cushions them and their staffs from that most awful of circumstances, temporarily going without a paycheck.

You see, the Pennsylvania legislature has a collective white-knuckled fear that if they end up in a stalemate in budget negotiations (i.e., failing to do their job), the checks might stop coming for a while.

Hey, when you make more than $84,000 a year, plus a tidy per diem for actually showing up in Harrisburg, you become accustomed to certain things.

“The reserves are there to help ward off a possible stalemate over the budget,” said Rep. Mark Keller, R-Perry, who succinctly described the legislature’s fear.

So, the year-end surplus increased from $140 million to $154 million. It’s no wonder the General Assembly squirreled it away; the fund is actually down from its peak in 2006, when it was stuffed with $215 million.

Might we suggest a donation of the entire amount to the Treasury. It wouldn’t go far to offset the $1.3 billion projected shortfall in state revenue, but it would be a start. And the removal of the financial parachute just might provide new incentive to get a balanced budget done on time.

Actually, the suggestion has already been made that the legislature donate even its $6 million savings toward the deficit as a symbolic gesture.

“We haven’t gotten to that level of detail,” said Sen. Vincent Hughes, the ranking Democrat on the committee, a reply that skittered like a blue crab threatened with a steam. bath.