"What's black and white and read all over?"

Sunday, June 25, 2006
Posted 11:37 PM by

Is John Perzel sorry?

House Speaker John Perzel has shown no sign of changing other than keeping his mouth shut about last year's pay raise. Some people never learn.That was the rhetorical and almost ludicrous question Michael Race posed today in The Citizens Voice of Wilkes-Barre.

Rhetorical in that while House Speaker John Perzel called last year's legislative pay raise "indefensible" during a press conference last week, he never actually apologized for pushing it through.

Nor has he stopped the state from paying more than $1 million to private lawyers to defend lawsuits filed because of the now-repealed raises.

Perzel "never renounced his own remarks about lawmakers supposedly deserving a 16 percent boost in their base pay," Race wrote. "Instead, he expressed regret over the grief the issue - and his comments about it - has caused his colleagues."

That includes the 17 incumbent lawmakers - including the state's top two Republican senators - who were thrown out of office in last month's primary largely because of the pay raise issue.

And the lingering public resentment still being expressed in a poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University. It showed respondents were evenly split on whether they would vote against their own legislators just because they voted for the pay raise.

Of the 108 lawmakers who face opponents in the fall, 56 voted with the majority last July to increase their pay by 16 percent to 54 percent, the Associated Press reports.

Yet, Allegheny County Council tried and failed last week to pass a bill that would have banned appointments to county authorities, boards and commissions for any lawmaker who voted for the pay raise.

In an unreleated move, state Rep. Tony DeLuca, D-Allegheny County, introduced a joint resolution (H.B. 2813) in the House that would amend the state constitution by banning state senators and representatives from earning outside employment income other than the $72,182 salary they receive from their elected positions.

"No state elected official should be able to earn wages or perform work in any outside job other than what they were elected to do, and that is to serve in the General Assembly," DeLuca said. "We are chosen by the people who pay us and that job should be our primary concern."

Quinnipiac's survey showed the pay-raise vote matters more in western and central Pennsylvania, home to 14 of the 17 incumbents who lost the primary, than in the eastern third. Perzel lives in Northeastern Philadelphia, where the Republican will face Tim Kearney, a Democrat, this fall in a second attempt to unseat him.

It won't be easy.

Perzel has nearly $1.6 million set aside in two campaign committees (Friends of John Perzel and John Perzel Victory 2006).

Meanwhile, Kearney has yet to file a campaign finance report with the state Department of State. That means his campaign is fundraising illegally or he hasn't raised a dime yet.

That alone makes Race's question particularly laughable.

It's also abundantly clear from the way the a weak lobbyist disclosure bill passed the House last week that the Speaker is still up to his old tricks.

Although the measure passed the House, 190-1, some lawmakers may have been hoodwinked into approving Perzel's own bill by mistake after the bulk of its wording secretly replaced that of a stronger competing bill with a different number that the House already approved once last year.

Perzel used a similar maneuver to pass the pay raise last year and the bill legalizing slot machines in 2004.

Amendments that would have toughened up the lobbyist disclosure law were knocked out by parliamentary maneuvers. And when state Rep. Greg Vitali, a longtime proponent of reform, rose up against the bill, Perzel repeatedly cut off the Delaware County Democrat's microphone.

What newspapers and other media should be asking is: Can Perzel cut off true reform as easily as he can legitimate debate in the House?
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