HARRISBURG, Pa. – After bringing four months of abuse down on their heads, Pennsylvania lawmakers Wednesday repealed a pay raise they gave themselves in the middle of the night.
Gov. Ed Rendell signed the repeal legislation less than three hours after the state Senate approved it 50-0. It passed the House 197-1 on Monday.
Last July, the Legislature, acting at 2 a.m. without public notice or debate, raised the salaries of more than 1,300 public officials in all three branches of government, including Pennsylvania's 1,000 judges.
Radio talk show hosts, editorial writers and citizen activist groups lambasted lawmakers over the size of the legislative raises — 16 percent to 54 percent — and the way the bill was handled.
Much of the anger was directed at lawmakers' use of "unvouchered expenses" — a legal maneuver that enabled them to correct their raises right away, despite a provision in the Pennsylvania Constitution that bars them from receiving midterm salary increases.
"We are here to correct a mistake," the Senate's Republican leader, David J. Brightbill, said as he introduced the repeal legislation. "As one of the people who exercised poor judgment, I would like to apologize."
Last week, voters demonstrated their anger over the raises by ousting Supreme Court Justice Russell M. Nigro. It was the first time a statewide judge was thrown out in a yes-or-no retention vote in the 36 years Pennsylvania had held such elections.
Legislative seats were not on the Nov. 8 ballot, but some lawmakers said repealing the raises was crucial to putting the issue behind them before next year's elections.
Lawmakers tried but failed to roll back the raises two weeks ago. House and Senate leaders clashed over the constitutionality of repealing the judges' raises and accused each other of secretly trying to preserve part or all of the pay increase.
The compromise bill approved this week included language designed to prevent judges from using a court challenge to recapture their salary increases, which ranged from 11 percent to 15 percent.
Several grass-roots groups lobbied for repealing the law, and one — PACleanSweep — already has recruited dozens of candidates to run against legislators.
"The pay raise violated the constitution at least five different ways and everybody knows it," said Timothy Potts, co-founder of watchdog group Democracy Rising Pa. "It was a slap in the face of voters and taxpayers."