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State pay freeze sent to governor

Legislation is being sent to Gov. Tom Wolf to freeze cost-of-living-adjustments for state government officials through 2021.

House Bill 2487 is sponsored by Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon. It passed the House unanimously on May 26 and passed the Senate, also unanimously, on Monday.

The pay freeze would apply to members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, the governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, attorney general, auditor general, the heads of departments, members of boards and commissions, and the judiciary. Earlier this year, the House Republican Caucus placed a freeze on hiring and froze the salaries of its employees for at least one year.

“This is the right and appropriate action at this time,” said Ryan. “Many Pennsylvania citizens are suffering from job losses and struggling to get by. The pandemic is also taking a tremendous toll on state revenue, which will impact state budgets for years to come. We are committed to sharing in the sacrifices to restore financial stability to our citizens and our Commonwealth as we prepare to face the very difficult fiscal challenges ahead.”

In all, about 1,300 government employees are affected by the legislation, Ryan said. Salaries have only been frozen twice since 1995 — in 2010 and 2016, and then only because state law stipulates the automatic pay raises aren’t given if the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland are unchanged or decrease. Most lawmakers earn about $90,000 and their 1.9% pay raise earlier this year cost the state about $3.2 million.

The Lebanon Republican said it was important to send a message to state residents that state government wasn’t spending money unnecessarily while many state residents have seen their incomes disrupted by COVID-19.

“One of the most important messages that we can ever send is when you understand that people who are making legislative and executive and judicial decisions understand the scope and the magnitude of the financial problems and are willing to put their money where their mouth is. This freeze on the cost of living allowance, I think, is a very important step. It saves about $5 million. It’s a recognition that we have a long way to go.”

The state finished last year’s fiscal year about $3 billion short, Ryan said, and state officials are anticipating being another $2 billion short this year. State officials are already eyeing a $5 billion borrowing program to balance the state’s budget.

Borrowing may be necessary, Ryan said, but the state also must live within its means as budget talks continue in the coming weeks.

“We need to deal with some of these issues head on,” Ryan said. “Borrowing money is one way to deal with the issue. The other issue is to be fiscally responsible and to live within our means. We need to do that. I think this strong measure that happened today with House Bill 2487 is a message that is being sent out across the commonwealth. This was a bill I was told would never happen. I was told it was going to be window dressing.”

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