What was the central question?
We call them state lawmakers because writing and passing laws is their most fundamental duty, and it's also a great power that can affect the lives of everyone across the state. Given that responsibility, we wanted to know: In a time of greater political polarization, are they getting as much done?
How did we try to answer it?
We compared the number of bills and resolutions introduced and passed each session, going as far back as we could (about four decades). We scraped the state legislative website and then compared those numbers with the official record. It's not a perfect measure, but there's no perfect way to measure legislative activity. Experts agreed this was one of the best ways.
What did we find?
The number of bills introduced has fallen from its peak in the 1990s, and the number of bills passed has steadily declined since the 1970s. In contrast, the number of resolutions — largely ceremonial and noncontroversial measures — has more than quadrupled since the '70s. This comes as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have become more polarized and less willing to compromise.
Why does that matter?
Pennsylvania has the largest full-time state legislature in the country, and our lawmakers are among the best-paid, with starting salaries at about $88,000. Plus, they receive other benefits and perks. So it's a fair question to ask whether taxpayers are getting the best bang for their buck.
What was the reaction?
Some readers questioned the size of the legislature:
"The size of the legislature is surely a problem. More people to influence and/or compromise is much harder. Too many very local interests vs. statewide views. So to me, that's the most important first step — reduce the number of districts and representatives."
Others suggested the public needed to get more involved:
"People who are concerned about lack of legislative productivity should be contacting legislators about what they wish to see done."
Lawmakers were split. Republicans, who control the legislature, complained that it didn't capture all of the work they accomplish. House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) called it “lazy & dishonest” on Twitter.
Rep. Tom Caltagirone (D., Berks), a 43-year veteran of the House, said the story was well done and that he hoped it would encourage everyone in Harrisburg to put their partisanship aside to get more work done.
Only time will tell.
— Jonathan Lai