Pennsylvania Lawmakers Eroding Liberty, Study Finds

Published January 1, 2005

Pennsylvania lawmakers have repeatedly voted in ways that restrict personal and economic liberty, according to a recently released study by the Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Whether the issue was government spending, taxation, business regulation, education policy, or environmental rules, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly and governor usually acted to restrict rather than enhance liberty, concluded The Liberty Index: A Report Card on the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, 2003-2004 Legislative Session, published by the foundation in Fall 2004.

The Liberty Index evaluates Pennsylvania legislators and Gov. Ed Rendell based on the answer to this question: “Does this Act expand or contract the liberty of the people of Pennsylvania?”

“Unlike most special interest groups that focus only on a handful of laws on selected issues, our analysis considers every single bill that became an Act and reflects the fact that every law ultimately has an impact on the liberty of all Pennsylvanians,” said Commonwealth Foundation President Matthew J. Brouillette. “Our only special interest is the condition of liberty in this commonwealth.”

The foundation defines liberty as “minimal coercive government, and maximum voluntary action and self-reliance.”

All Bills Were Evaluated

Each of the 242 bills passed by the General Assembly and signed by Rendell between January 2003 and August 2004 was evaluated and assigned points according to its relative impact on Pennsylvanians’ liberty. The total scores for each lawmaker were then used to generate a “Liberty Index,” with a range from zero to 100. “Liberty Grades” were then assigned with the traditional A, B, C, D, and F designations.

“Overall, legislator performance was not sterling,” Brouillette said. “Rep. Daryl Metcalfe was the top scorer in the General Assembly, and he barely exceeded 50 [53.77567] on a 100-point scale. More members, as well as Gov. Rendell, had scores of F (111) than the total number of A, B, and C grades (89). Clearly, neither party should be proud of its performance in defending Pennsylvanians’ liberty.”

Metcalfe featured his top ranking in his most recent constituent newsletter, writing, “Whether it’s voting to hold the line against increased government spending, protecting our Second Amendment right to bear arms, providing Pennsylvania parents with even more options to make the best educational choices for their children, or any other public policy decision impacting our everyday lives, the overriding litmus test for any lawmaker should always be furthering the cause of liberty.”

Average Grade: D

Interestingly, while Metcalfe is a Republican, the lowest Liberty Grade also was earned by a Republican, Senator Joseph Conti, who received a Liberty Grade of F- with a Liberty Index score of 17.28487. Rep. Greg Vitali was the highest-scoring Democrat. He earned a B- (with a Liberty Index score of 40.91110) and outscored more than 80 percent of the Republicans.

As a whole, the General Assembly’s average Liberty Grade was a D (with an average Liberty Index score of 28.84446) and a median Liberty Grade of D- (with a Liberty Index score of 25.16961).

On a party basis, the Republicans scored higher than the Democrats, with an average Liberty Grade of C- (with an average Liberty Index score of 32.93080). The Democrats earned an average Liberty Grade of F+ (with an average Liberty Index score of 23.94085).

On a caucus-by-caucus basis, the House Republicans had the highest average Liberty Grade, a C (with an average Liberty Index score of 35.10455), while the Senate Democrats had the lowest average Liberty Grade, an F- (with an average Liberty Index score of 20.54648).

Governor Earned an F-

Rendell, who technically voted “yes” on every bill examined by signing them into law, earned a Liberty Grade of F- (with a Liberty Index score of 17.37813).

“Some legislators may disagree with the importance we place on liberty. That is understandable, particularly given their poor defense of our inherent rights,” said Brouillette. “We, however, hold dearly to Lord John Acton’s maxim that ‘Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end.’ Liberty is just too important for it to be a mere legislative afterthought.”

Grant Gulibon ([email protected]) is senior policy analyst at the Commonwealth Foundation.