It’s not a new narrative. Pennsylvania’s State Legislature is big, expensive, and inefficient. With 203 Representatives and 50 Senators, Pennsylvania’s 253-member legislature is among the largest in the nation considering the population it serves (beat out only by New Hampshire). Numerous attempts have been made over the years to shrink the legislature, with countless public officials endorsing such measures over the years, without any real intention of following through on them.
Maybe it’s the anemic job growth, frustration over inaction on property-tax relief, or a general lack of trust in the state legislatures ability to govern effectively, but this most recent push to slash the number of legislators in both houses has received more support, and seems more likely to garner actual results than any prior attempt.
With each chamber weighing how much of their own body they’d like to let go of, it seems the likely final product would see the legislature reduced from 253, to 198 members. That’s a reduction of 55 overall seats (5 from the Senate, 50 from the House). While it is entirely conceivable that this breakthrough in bipartisan agreement that something needs to be done about the bloated legislature fades away as nothing more than election year banter, Pennsylvanians should be prepared to see this question presented to voters in a constitutional amendment referendum as early as 2015 (before the 2020 reapportionment).
The thought of a leaner legislature should excite progressives across the state. Never mind the obvious cost savings…fewer districts would increase democratic competitiveness for seats long forsaken to the “right.” Democrats have a statewide voter registration advantage of roughly 1,062,864 over Republicans. Of course, this statewide advantage means nothing cracked apart into heavily gerrymandered districts expertly drawn to favor republicans. If you were wondering how a state that went to the Democratic Nominee for President in every election since 1992 could have had a republican controlled general assembly for 14 out of 21 of those years…that is how.
Pennsylvania is not as “red” as our statehouse and congressional delegations would imply. Democrats and progressives have been fighting an uphill battle over districting for decades. An increase in district population size would necessarily be accompanied by a strengthened democratic presence in many districts. With slim republican majorities in both houses as it is, that bump could be a crucial factor in achieving democratic control in one or both chambers.