Pa. officials find ways to reject pay raise

Pennsylvania state lawmakers, judges and top executive branch officials – including Gov. Tom Corbett – are scheduled to see a couple of hundred dollars more in their salaries in 2014.

State officials who don’t want the automatic 0.3 percent raise have a few options to avoid it.

Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona, is figuring out a way to divert his automatic raise to local taxpayers.

A 1995 state law adjusts the salaries each year to reflect changes during the last 12 months in the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

“You can’t refuse it, but you can give it back. I’m returning it,” McGinnis said.

But he’s mulling over who to write the $200 check to. He could write the check to the state Treasury Department, putting the money back where it came from. Or, instead of sending the money back to the state, he could ensure the money is spent for his local constituents by donating to the Altoona Area School District.

“I know there is a playground that needs repaired,” he said.

He is also considering donating his raise to the Altoona Area Public Library. Prior to the 1995 law, legislators could vote to give themselves raises, but they wouldn’t get the raises until they were re-elected.

“Although [the change] is technically consistent with the state constitution, it’s against the spirit of the state constitution,” McGinnis said.

Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton, said the annual raise is part of the job.

“It’s a small raise. I haven’t given much thought about it one way or the other,” he said. Then he decided, “It’s part of the job, so I will leave it as is.”

Legislators’ past decisions to decline a larger raise still weighs significantly on his opinion to forego current annual raises.

In late 2005, legislators, amid public backlash, rescinded sizable state pay increases for the legislative, executive and judicial branches that had been enacted several months earlier.

However, the state’s judges kept the raises under a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling.

“It’s frustrating legislators get beat up [each year for accepting cost-of-living adjustments, known as COLAs], and they gave back the raises [enacted in 2005] while judges skated by with them and also receive the automatic COLAs,” Haluska said.

In 2014, the Supreme Court’s chief justice will be paid $206,032, other justices $200,205, common pleas judges about $174,000 and district judges about $87,000.

No Blair County magisterial district judges were available during the time this article was written to comment on the increases.

The salary range for lawmakers starts at $84,012, up from $83,802 this year. That goes up to $131,149 for the House speaker and Senate president pro tem.

Fifteen of 50 senators will make at least $95,797, while House and Senate floor leaders will make $121,723, and whips and Appropriations Committee chairmen will make $112,632.

Several state legislators aside from McGinnis and Haluska were also contacted but did not return calls.

The salary adjustment for judges and top executive branch officials takes effect Jan. 1, while lawmakers see the change starting today.

Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, returns his raises to the state treasury.

He does not divert the money to his local constituents because, “It’s not my money to give. But I have to receive it because under the constitution, all legislators have to receive equal pay.”

Eichelberger said he has several reasons for returning his raise.

He said that, to receive a raise in a leadership role while other state employees aren’t getting raises, sets a wrong example.

Aside from union employees, “there are classifications of people employed by state departments not getting raises,” he said. He’s annually given back his raise; however, he accepted a raise during his second year as a senator, he said.

The state government has operated on tight budgets since Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration, he said, and those budgets have not provided increases to many employees of the state.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.