Several area members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly say they would rather give their cost-of-living adjustments to charity than return them to the state treasury.
State Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton, said Monday afternoon that he intends to collect three or four months of the increases and donate the money to local food pantries.
Rep. Rick Geist, R-Altoona, said he is giving his raise to his church. He said the church needs construction work, and he reasoned that he would rather keep the money local than send it to the state treasury, where it could end up in Philadelphia.
Rep. Scott Conklin, D-State College, is using the same reasoning. His chief of staff, Tor Michaels, said Conklin will give his raise to a food bank in State College as opposed to having it re-appropriated to Philadelphia.
Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon, is donating his increase to the United Way.
State officials have been lambasted in recent years for their hefty raises. As tough times take hold, including a state budget with a $2.3 billion shortfall, the public is watching to see, as Geist put it, not only the big picture of how the budget issues are resolved, but also the pay issues.
The COLA amounts to about $100 a paycheck after taxes and benefits are removed.
The area's state senators - John Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, Jake Corman, R-Centre, and John N. Wozniak, D-Cambria - are among 23 senators returning their 2.8 percent cost-of-living raise to the state treasury. State Rep. Camille ''Bud'' George, D-Houtzdale, is among the 68 representatives doing the same.
Many of the area's representatives, however, seem to favor charitable giving as a way to address the issue.
Rep. Jerry A. Stern, R-Martinsburg, said he and his wife give to charities. He said legislators are required by law to take their wages, and he suggested that if elected officials really don't want the money, they should pass legislation eliminating it from their paychecks.
''If they want to repeal the COLA, then bring it up for a vote,'' he said.
Rep. Dick Hess, R-Bedford, was not available for comment.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.