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Pa. lawmaker stirs controversy with Facebook post - abc27 WHTM

Pa. lawmaker stirs controversy with Facebook post

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

State Rep. Mark Cohen likes per diems. Every year the longtime Philadelphia Democrat is among the tops in the Legislature in claiming the extra cash intended to offset lawmaker expenses while on official business.

But Cohen doesn't like talking about what he's taking. abc27 News tried to ask him about it last year, but he refused comment.

A recent report showed that Cohen claimed more than $39,000 in per diems in 2011. He refused comment again just last week, but he is commenting about lawmaker compensation on Facebook, where he referred to three state lawmakers who decided not to run for re-election.

Cohen wrote, "This trend will likely continue until such time as the media is willing to permit the Legislature to raise its salaries above the annual inflation rate."

"People need to understand that the minimum wage for a legislator is $82,000. With benefits it's into the 90's and if you're somebody like Mark Cohen you get another $39,000 tax free," Eric Epstein of the political watchdog group Rock the Capitol said. "They're compensated well. They get pension, they get perks, they get more than enough compensation."

Lawmaker salaries increase every year and they're set to do so again this December.

Local representative Glen Grell said Cohen's request for a raise is inappropriate, especially when other state employees are being asked to take a pay freeze.

"When our budgets are very tight, it's just not an appropriate time to do ask for a pay raise for legislators," Grell said.

And they're getting along just fine. Epstein says lawmakers are already getting paid double what the average Pennsylvanian makes.

"Pennsylvania already has one of the largest legislatures," he said. "Pennsylvania already has one of the most generous legislative packages. We don't have to give them more to become more effective. They should be able to get along with what they have. In fact, it's obscene what they have now."

Even a long time Democratic staffer expressed disgust at Cohen's comment, saying "we've only gotten a 1.3 percent cost of living increase in the past five years."

Cohen says abc27 News misinterpreted his Facebook post. "I didn't say I favored legislators getting a pay raise," he said. "I used words precisely with specific meaning. I really wish people would stop trying to change the meaning of the words I use."

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