It's that time of year again.

No, not Christmas. Not yet -- unless you're a state legislator.

This is the season when lawmakers collect their automatic cost-of-living-adjustment pay raises -- nearly 2.2 percent starting Dec. 1.

The annual pay hike was authorized by the General Assembly in 1995, meaning these public servants can collect raises tied to changes in the Consumer Price Index without ever having to justify the increases to taxpayers.

Every year we hear the same thing from legislators: "What can we do? It's the law."

Well, since they're lawmakers they could start by changing the law.

Instead, many of them go to great lengths to try to show they aren't benefiting from the salary increases.

If this year is anything like past years, some lawmakers will pledge to donate their raises to charities, others will earmark them for office expenses and still others will write personal checks back to the state each month as reimbursement.

This last one is interesting.

Did these lawmakers actually freeze their salaries at the amount they received when first elected -- meaning each year they reimburse more and more to the state?

Or are they only returning the current year's increase, in which case they aren't actually refusing their raises -- they're delaying them by a year.

It's a clever way of having it both ways -- they can get their money, eventually, and save face with their constituents.


Speaking of the folks back home:

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate sits at 8.1 percent, above the national average of 7.9 percent.

Those who are working are seeing their wages drop. The 2010 median household income in Pennsylvania was $49,288, down from $50,713 two years earlier, according to Eric Epstein, co-founder of the watchdog group Rock the Capital.

By comparison, once this year's cost-of-living raise kicks in, legislative salaries will rise from $82,000 to $84,000 for the rank and file and from $128,000 to $131,000 for the leadership.

That's their base pay -- whether they decide to return a portion to the state, donate some to charity or bury part of it in holes in their backyards.

It's important to remember, because the base pay is what their eventual pensions will be based on.

And state lawmakers' retirement plans are very generous, indeed, thanks in part to a 50 percent increase approved in 2001 by -- you guessed it -- state lawmakers.

Everyone can see what's going on here, and it's not pretty. We send these men and women to Harrisburg to do the work of the people, not to layer their nests with as much as they can get their hands on while they're there.

Certainly, this doesn't describe all of our elected officials.

Some, like Eugene DePasquale, a local state representative soon to be sworn in as state auditor general, actually have tried to change the law that allows these raises. Unfortunately, their numbers are too few and such legislation never goes anywhere.

To the rest of them -- whatever they do with their raises -- they can keep their lip service.

Unless they sign onto a bill righting this wrong, we don't really want to hear it.