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Monday, June 19, 2006
Posted 9:32 PM by

Perzel: Pay raise 'indefensible,' but Pa. pays $1M to defend it

Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel made a mea culpa Monday on last year's repealed legislative pay raise, likely in hopes of saving his leadership position. It came on the same day the Philadelphia Inquirer reported he and other state leaders spent more than $1 million to defend the pay hikes against five lawsuits.I would have loved to have been in the Capital Newsroom when Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel hastily called a press conference today to back off his statements last week to a television station about last year's legislative pay raise.

Perzel must have been pounded the last four days after he said Thursday in a rare interview on WITF-TV's "Smart Talk" program that he supported the pay hike - which called for raises of 16- to 54-percent - because he claimed 30 state lawmakers have bad credit and Philly tattoo artists make more than legislators.

The public disagreed, forcing a repeal of the raises in November after voters ousted state Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro. Chief Justice Ralph Cappy supported the raises, which also hiked the salaries of all state judges and top executive branch officials.

Cappy and Perzel unofficially helped write the bill, which was substituted for an existing bill, then pushed through the Legislature late at night and without any public comment on July 7.

In the May 2006 primary, 17 incumbent legislators were voted out of office - including the state's two top senators - largely because of the pay raise issue.

Perzel did not have a primary opponent and appeared to have escaped the carnage unscathed. Then, he opened his mouth.

"Each time I have attempted to publicly convey my commitment to the members, I have only stirred up this issue more. I cannot allow that to continue," Perzel told reporters Monday.

I can only think pressure is really mounting behind closed doors for him to be ousted as speaker.

Withoutsomuch as a pretense, Perzel called the press conference to say, "I understand that some of my statements defending the pay raise have been used against my members and, with that, I do not agree. It is not proper given the variety of viewpoints of our members that they are publicly penalized for my opinions.

"... I am here to make it very clear that I understand the people of our Commonwealth have spoken - the pay raise was wrong," Perzel said. "It has been repealed in accordance with the will of the people. I stand here today to acknowledge that I have been defending something that the people have determined to be indefensible."

Yet, that didn't stop Perzel, other legislative leaders, Cappy and Gov. Ed Rendell from spending $1,037,200 in tax money to defend the pay raise law against five lawsuits, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Monday.

Six staff lawyers on the state payroll have been involved in the cases, plus at least 16 private lawyers from five law firms, including one who charges $625 an hour, the newspaper reported.

One of the cases, brought by Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and others, was thrown out of federal court by a judge last week who ruled only voters could remedy perceived problems with the pay raise law - by voting out those who passed it.

"Do I like hiring lawyers to defend these kinds of suits? No, I hate to do this," House Majority Leader Sam Smith said. "I understand why people think it is a waste of money, but if we think we are right about the process, we have to defend it."

And they plan to keep paying private lawyers to fight for them, even though Perzel told reporters, "I accept the will of the people."

Makes me wonder why the legal bill isn't being covered by errors and omissions insurance, like the policies municipalities and school districts and business professionals in Pennsylvania purchase?
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