Last month, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed two bills aimed at reducing the size of the state General Assembly.
Pennsylvania has the second largest legislative branch of any state in the nation with 253 members, behind only New Hampshire, which has 424 members.
Its legislature is also one of the most costly in the nation with approximately $321.6 million budgeted for the House, Senate and related expenses during the 2013-14 fiscal year. Approximately $34.7 million was budgeted towards members' salaries alone. Pennsylvania legislators are considered full-time.
In contrast, New Hampshire's legislators serve only part-time and receive only $200 per two-year term.
The measures, passed within minutes of one another on Dec. 17, would shrink the House from 253 to 153 members and the Senate from 50 to 38 members.
Both measures were sponsored by Republican Speaker of the House Sam Smith and received support from a large majority of members of his party.
The measure to reduce the size of the House, House Bill 1234, passed on a 148-50 vote, and the Senate measure, House Bill 1716, passed on a 150-48 vote.
Despite being backed by her own party, Warren County's state representative voted against both measures.
State Rep. Kathy Rapp expressed doubts about the savings inherent in reducing the size of the legislature and said the bills were never presented in the light of possible savings.
The state House Committee on Appropriations estimates savings from members' salaries at $10 million to $15 million annually from the House reduction and $5 million to $8 million annually from the Senate measure. Using those figures, the committee estimates an annual combined savings of $15 million to $23 million annually, or between approximately 4.6 and 7.2 percent of total legislative expenses.
"It would have been much easier to vote yes," Rapp noted. "This was never proposed as a way to save money. It was proposed as a way to manage the legislature. The fact that it's not saving money is telling."
So, if the move isn't aimed at saving money, what is the goal?
According to Rapp, it's about giving more populous areas more pull in how the state is run.
"I see this as a way to strip rural Pennsylvanians of their voice," Rapp said, "as a way to consolidate power. Most of the 'no' votes were rural legislators."
Rapp noted the 65th Legislative District, which encompasses Warren County and is represented by Rapp, is one of the two largest districts in the state, along with the neighboring 67th Legislative District.
She noted that Rep. Martin Causer, who represents the 67th District and is also a Republican, voted against the bills as well.
Rapp pointed out that a legislative district in downtown Philadelphia could be only a few square blocks, rather than hundreds of square miles, as the 65th and 67th are.
She fears reducing the size of the legislature would serve to increase that disparity and stretch rural district resources.
"In my district, I have to maintain and staff three offices," Rapp noted.
She also expressed concern that expanding districts could drown out rural Pennsylvanians as they would have less concentrated representation.
As an example, she pointed out more populous counties have delegations that associate with each other to represent their regions' interests, while she and Causer work with a delegation for the entire northwestern region of the state.
"In Pennsylvania, every census, if we lose a (U.S.) congressman we lose a voice," Rapp said. "I feel the same about our voices in Harrisburg. I see it as more power in the hands of a few. It's a power grab."