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Reducing the size of Pa.'s legislature: Worth it or not?

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Snow, cold weather — and time off — concentrate the mind wonderfully. Instead of skipping from topic to topic like I usually do, I want to write about one thing today: the size of the state legislature.

One of the last things the state House did in December before skedaddling home for the holidays was pass Speaker Sam Smith’s two bills to reduce the size of the House by 50 and the Senate by 12 members. (This story from The Morning Call in Allentown also gives a good explanation of why getting this done is a painfully convoluted process.)

Pennsylvania has the largest full-time legislature in the country, so supporting fewer lawmakers is an obvious way to reduce the state budget. (And who knew that tiny New Hampshire has the largest legislative body in the country, albeit part time?) With nearly instantaneous communication technology and better highway systems, governance should be more efficient in the 21st century than it was in the 19th and require fewer boots on the ground, right?

Opponents argue that Pennsylvania needs a combined 203 elected officials to represent the commonwealth’s 12 million citizens, who are spread out over 46,000 square miles.

But neighboring Ohio, with 1 million fewer in population living in 45,000 square miles, has a legislature roughly half the size of ours — and residents get to enjoy the same degree of political wrangling, gridlock and occasional scandal as we do. More bang for the buck, as it were.

And, I just have to note, Ohio privatized its state store system starting more than 20 years ago, when beer and wine became available in grocery stores and the like. The state finally spun off its wholesale liquor business in 2012 in a creative bid to keep its nonprofit jobs-creation program going.

So what’s not to like?

You’d be surprised.

A businessman in California is gathering signatures to get a referendum on the ballot to increase the size of California’s legislature. He says he’s spent $500,000 of his own money already to do this. Inspired by state government in New Hampshire, he believes having more representatives puts them closer to the people who elected them and makes them more responsive.

Think about it. Unless you’ve reached out with a problem or are politically active, when’s the last time you saw your state rep or senator face to face? You know — had a chat with him in the produce aisle at the grocery store or ran into her at the gas pump? A Pennsylvania legislator represents 63,000 people, so it’s not likely. In New Hampshire, that’s 3,300. Not much opportunity to get lost in the crowd there.

So what do you think? Does smaller government lead to less representation? Would larger government, as the National Conference of State Legislatures suggests, reduce the likelihood of party dominance and lead to better chances of compromise solutions?

What would you like to see happen with Sam Smith’s bills — and how would that help your business?

The week ahead

Go west, newspaper editor Horace Greeley wrote in 1865. In Friday’s issue, finance reporter Mike Sadowski explains why that may be good advice for trust companies when it comes to chartering.

Our Inside Business section this week focuses on architects, engineers and contractors.

As always, find the week’s networking opportunities here.

The rewind

Before the holidays, I mentioned the magazine phenomenon of Modern Farmer. Well, it’s Pennsylvania Farm Show time, a great opportunity for farmers to showcase their work and for townies to get close up to all that entails. I have a soft spot for the annual butter sculpture, a thing that is wonderfully part art, part high skill and part, well — is bizarre too harsh a word?

This year’s effort pays tribute to the milkshake. You’ve got to love dancing cows. One of my recent favorites is the one from 2008, featuring a school bus.

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