The Pennsylvania State Senate took a baby step toward slashing the size of the General Assembly, one of the largest and costliest state legislatures in the nation.
Earlier this month the Senate's State Government Committee approved a bill that would reduce the size of that body from 50 members to 40 and trim the House down from 203 representatives to 161.
The bill also calls for a $70 million reduction in the General Assembly's annual budget. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has said he's in favor of the idea. Proponents are linking the concept to a reform-minded agenda that swept into Harrisburg following the public backlash against the 2005 legislative pay raise.
"A smaller legislature is achievable, and this legislation would maintain healthy representation," said the bill's sponsor, State Rep. John Pippy (R-District 37).
But not everyone thinks smaller is better. Some lawmakers have argued that shrinking the size of the legislature would only mean that each member would have to represent a greater number of constituents, resulting in a a less responsive government.
Harrisburg political activist Eric Epstein, founder of RockTheCapitol.org, a group that advocates reform, said, "We don't need to reduce the number of players in a bad game, we need to change the way the game is played."
Over in the House last week, the Speaker's reform commission held a hearing on the issue; they'll vote on it next month.
State Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-District 153), who co-chairs the commission, said he expected it would recommend finding ways to cut the legislature's budget, not its membership.
If it does happen, it will still take a while. The bill would amend the state Constitution, meaning both the House and Senate would have to pass it in consecutive sessions before it could go before voters as a ballot initiative. If the bill managed to jump through all these hoops, it would take effect after reapportionment in 2010.