HARRISBURG -- A bill to reduce the state House of Representatives from 203 to 153 members passed the House State Government Committee on Tuesday by a 16-8 vote, with two local legislators on opposite sides of the issue.
State Rep. Fred Keller, R-85 of Kreamer, is a co-sponsor of House Bill 153, which he supports because it reduces the number of legislators by about 25 percent, making for a more efficient governing body that would save money through fewer salaries, benefits and legacy costs.
While the measure would take each state House member from representing about 63,000 people to about 80,000, "that would still not be all of Union and Snyder counties," he said.
Having fewer state House members would mean fewer salaries, pensions and lower costs of doing business, Keller said.
State Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108 of Sunbury, who sits on the committee, doesn't see it like that.
She voted no on the bill, citing her concern that the bill doesn't address real cost issues of the Legislature.
"When you ask someone who is in favor of reducing the size of Legislature why, they say because of the cost," she said. "That cost is less than 1 percent of the budget," which for fiscal year 2011 was $27 billion.
"That's not to say we're not concerned about money, but this doesn't address the cost of the Legislature that everyone is concerned about," she said. "We need more specifics so people get what they're asking for, and I don't think that's happening here."
House Bill 153, sponsored by House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, is purported to make for more efficient lawmaking and lower taxpayer costs, according to The Associated Press.
But it concerns Culver and others, including state Rep. Kurt Masser, R-107 of Elysburg, who claim it will lessen representation of rural residents, reduce contact with constituents and open legislators to more influence from lobbyists.
"Lobbyists think they'll have better management of us," Culver said. "I think my constituency is the one that is supposed to manage me."
The argument about a smaller General Assembly being more efficient also doesn't sit with Culver. "We've just had the most efficient year in the last 10 years," she said. "We shouldn't be efficient because of our size but despite our size."
Size is another matter, Culver said, noting districts will become bigger and "people will feel they're getting less representation. By design, we're supposed to take in all views from all areas of the state and come to some consensus from all views of the state."
Other states with fewer representatives also don't stand for as many people as do the legislators in Pennsylvania, she said.
Shrinking the state House had come up during the election that saw Culver, Keller and Masser come into office.
Masser also voiced concern over House Bill 153. "I am for reducing the size of the Legislature if it means savings to the taxpayers," he said. "I have concerns about what the number of representatives should be, without rural areas losing their voice in the House."
Most of Masser's and Culver's districts are rural. "As I understand, this bill isn't about fiscal savings for the commonwealth," Masser said. "It is more about making the House of Representatives more manageable."
Masser said he will meet with Smith about the bill's specifics "and to get his opinion on any cost savings, and I'll decide from there."
With recent redistricting, Culver has added about 3,000 constituents to her district and is looking to open two satellite offices.
"People need to know they can get to your office," she said.
Keller said he sees this legislation as part of what his job is about.
"I think sometimes people are too worried about hanging onto their jobs," he said, "and quite frankly, I've been sent to Harrisburg to do the correct thing. And I believe the correct thing is to reduce the size of the Legislature. And if that runs me out of a job, I guess I've done my job effectively."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.