Tuesday, November 14, 2006

State court rejects lawsuit over 'perks' for legislators
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
By Tracie Mauriello, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG -- State legislators' car leases, health insurance, and per diems are not forbidden by the Pennsylvania constitution, a six-judge panel ruled yesterday.

Harrisburg activist Gene Stilp, who filed the Commonwealth Court suit in February, based his claim on a section of the constitution providing for legislators to receive "salary and mileage for regular and special sessions as shall be fixed by law, and no other compensation whatever" and prohibiting mid-term raises.

Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr., writing for the majority, suggested Mr. Stilp is interpreting the section too literally.

The state Supreme Court has consistently interpreted the section to "prohibit only 'salary' and 'mileage' increases during a legislative term," Judge Simpson wrote.

"Although language in the constitutional provision could support a conclusion that state legislators should not receive anything of value beyond 'salary and mileage,' that construction was repeatedly declined by the Supreme Court and ... has not been the law in this commonwealth for the last 125 years."

Mr. Stilp, though, says the constitution is clear.

"It's plain to any third-grader. It says, legislators shall receive 'salary and mileage ... and no other compensation whatever,'" he said after yesterday's decision, which he plans to appeal. "That's the contract between the legislators and the citizens of Pennsylvania. It says salary and mileage and nothing else, but [legislators] try to fit all these other things into it."

He argued in his suit that lawmakers are not entitled to other benefits such as the $141 they collect for every day spent in Harrisburg in addition to their salaries.

The court disagreed.

Meanwhile, the court declined to rule on two aspects of the case dealing with leadership accounts and so-called "walking-around money" but left open the possibility for Mr. Stilp to ask for reconsideration...


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