Time’s right for downsizing of Legislature

The question of whether the Pennsylvania House of Representatives should be reduced in size has moved another step closer to the state’s voters for a decision.

Nothing should be allowed to sidetrack voters from finally having the opportunity to decide that important issue.

House Bill 153, the vehicle for that decision, calls for the House to be trimmed to 151 members from the current 203.

Approval given by the House State Government Committee on Tuesday to report the measure — a proposed amendment to the state constitution — to the full House enhances the chance for the question to be on this year’s November ballots.

Whether that actually happens also depends on expeditious concurrence by the Senate.

This is the second consecutive legislative session that the measure has been before the full General Assembly. Both the House and Senate gave the proposal the proverbial green light during the 2015-16 session.

For a proposed constitutional amendment to go before the voters, it must gain approval by both legislative houses in two consecutive sessions.

It’s not too early for voters to start receiving a stream of information about the proposal, particularly on how much taxpayer money such a downsizing could save.

The voters also deserve similar information regarding a Senate downsizing.

Downsizing of the upper chamber also might be in the works — to 37 members from 50. However, the Senate didn’t OK a reduction plan last session, so the proposal is just beginning its journey toward possible voter consideration in November 2020.

On Tuesday, the House State Government Committee also acted on the Senate proposal, which is contained in House Bill 253, and, like House Bill 153, that measure also is being sent on for full-House action.

The issue of reducing the Legislature’s size has been talked about for many years, but there always has been taxpayer doubt about whether lawmakers were serious about the idea.

Driving that pessimism all along has been skepticism about whether representatives and senators ever would be willing to end some of their own jobs.

But proposals on behalf of downsizing have gained traction over the past half-decade, perhaps due in part to the commonwealth’s fiscal problems.

It’s important for state residents to understand that Pennsylvania’s Legislature is the largest full time in the nation. And, knowing that, it’s important for them to realize that much money is being spent unnecessarily due to the two bloated legislative chambers.

Amid all that, there must be concern over how a redistricting exercise would be carried out to accommodate reduced House and Senate membership.

If the time comes for such a redistricting, state residents should demand fairness, not gerrymandering on behalf of one political party.

Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, who along with other Democratic colleagues oppose the downsizings, said most state residents probably wouldn’t mind keeping all of the current House and Senate seats “if we just did our jobs.”

Even now, the accuracy of that viewpoint can legitimately be questioned.

And, that view is likely to be deemed more questionable as voters gain a deeper understanding of the savings and efficiencies that a smaller Legislature would make possible.

But first things first: The proposal involving the House needs to be given the final approvals necessary, without any attempts to detour that plan.

If the voters are denied their opportunity this time, it’s hard to fathom when another opportunity might evolve.