Can Pennsylvania afford to go it without a lieutenant governor?

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February 28, 2011

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Harrisberg, PENNSYLVANIA: When budgets are brutally tight, why settle for trimming office costs when you could just eliminate the office? That's the question Pennsylvania state Senate Elder Vogel is asking. He's floating the idea that his state could easily dispense with the office of the Lieutenant Governor.

Senator Vogel circulated a February 4th co-sponsorship memorandum in which he announced his intent to introduce such a bill, pointing out that the Keystone State has had to fill a vacant lieutenant governorship during the past two administrations. In both instances, the Senate President took on the office while fulfilling all Senate duties and, as Vogel wrote, executed the office “without difficulty...despite holding both offices”[1]

Vogel's bill would pass the responsibilities of the office on to the Senate President Pro Tempore, echoing the practice in two other states, Tennessee and West Virginia, where the lieutenant governorship is a title that is accorded to whichever Senate is elected to lead the chamber. As an additional argument for his bill. Vogel says cutting the position will save Pennsylvania tax payer's $1.5 million a year, adding that “To pretend that the office is so demanding that it requires us to spend more than $1.5 million dollars a year is an affront to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.[2]

Currently, the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, an office occupied by Republican Jim Cawley, gets a 24 hour security detail and a driver. Vogel's proposal, which would need to pass muster with voters as a Constitutional Amendment, would end all that beginning with whoever is elected in the 2014 cycle.[3]

Even that assessment is optimistic. A plan to abolish the lieutenant governor's job would need to pass the Pennsylvania General Assembly twice in two years just to proceed to a vote before the public, and even then it would not take effect until the gubernatorial election cycle after that. Vogel admits seeing the idea through could take eight long years.[4] And that is just his argument for running the bill now. “We can no longer afford to continue to pay for positions, boards, and programs simply because that's what we have always done”.[5]