The Truth Behind the Raise Your State Lawmaker Gave Back

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Your State Senator and Representative just learned they'll get an early Christmas gift: a pay raise of $1776.

Most lawmakers say they will give the money back to the state, or will send it to a local charity.

But some critics say that gesture is not as generous as it sounds.

We asked 35 state senators and representatives from our area what they plan to do with their cost of living adjustment, which most of us would call a pay raise.

20 responded.

Most lawmakers will give up the raise, yet they will still make more money, than they did last year.

Seven lawmakers tell us they will donate their automatic pay raises to charities in their districts.

Most area lawmakers will send their pay raises back to the state treasury.

"I will continue to do this as long as the people of the 119th (State House District) continue to send me to Harrisburg," said Gerald Mullery, a Democrat from Nanticoke.

Mifflinburg Republican Fred Keller keeps track of pay raises he once sent to the State Treasury.

Now he sends it to the treasuries of Union and Snyder counties, the two districts he respresents.

"Rather than send it down to the general fund, might as well pay it to the people who pay my salary," said Keller.

But is the give back of the raise a genuine gesture, or political show?

Critics call it the escalator clause.  While some lawmakers will give their yearly pay bump to charity or to the state, their take home pay every year keeps going up and up, like riding an escalator at the mall.

In 2011, your lawmaker had a base salary of $79,623.  Most gave their $2,389 cost of living adjestment, or COLA, to the state treasury or to charity.

But last year's COLA is part of this years base pay that's now at $82,026, so lawmakers who give away this year's COLA of $1,776, will still end up making about $2,400 than they did last year.

"The best you can say about this arrangement is they postpone their raises for a year," says Tim Potts, the Director of the Government Advocacy group, "Democracy Rising."

Representatives Mullery and Keller, along with Democrat Sid Michaels Kavulich of Clarks Summit, are the only three who don't use the escalator, instead, the give back the COLA's and thousands more.

Those three cap their salary at what they made the year they were elected to the State Legislature, and return the rest to the Pennsylvania State Treasury.

"In essence, I haven't seen, I haven't taken the pay raise because I kept the net pay the same," says Keller, who believes lawmakers should get rid of the automatic cost of living increases.  Mullery says a referendum on the ballot during a statewide election should determine if, and how much of a raise lawmakers should get.

He sponsored legislation to do that, but is not optimistic of any change soon.
"I don`t think we`ll be able to do this in the next two years," he said.

State representative Lynda Schlegel Culver of Sunbury returned raise to the state treasury last year and she has a unique plan this year.

She'll ask voters in her district to go on line and decide if her raise should go to the treasury or donate it to charity.

Here is the list of lawmakers in the Newswatch 16 viewing area who responded to our request for what they will do with their $1800 raises this years.

Rep. Kurt Masser (R) Columbia/Montour Co. CHARITY
Rep. Matthew Baker (R) Bradford/Tioga Co. CHARITY
Rep. Garth Everett (R) Lycoming Co. KEEPING RAISE
Rep. Fred Keller (R) Union/Snyder Co. To COUNTY TREASURIES
Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich (D) Lackawanna/Susquehanna Co. STATE TREASURY
Rep. Karen Boback (R) Luzerene/Wyoming Co. STATE TREASURY
Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski (D) Luzerne Co. STATE TREASURY
Rep. Mike Carroll (D) Luzerne/Monroe Co. STATE TREASURY
Rep. Gerald Mullery (D) Luzerne Co. STATE TREASURY
Rep. Tarah Toohil (R) Luzerne Co. CHARITY
Rep. Rosemary Brown (R) Monroe/Pike Co. STATE TREASURY
Rep. Neil Goodman (R) Schuylkill Co. STATE TREASURY
Rep. Mike Tobash (R) Berks Schuylkill STATE TREASURY
Rep. Jerry Knowles (R) Schuylkill/Berks Co. STATE TREASURY
Rep. David Millard (R) Columbia Co. STATE TREASURY
Rep. Mike Hanna (D) Clinton/Centre Co. STATE TREASURY
Sen. Lisa Baker (R) Luzerne Co. CHARITY
Sen. John Blake (D) Lackawanna Co. CHARITY
Sen. Patick Brown (R) Monroe Co. STATE TREASURY
Sen. John Gordner (R) Columbia Co. CHARITY
Sen. John Yudichak (D) Luzerne Co. CHARITY