NO – Our legislators do not need a raise. (A Response to Ed)

Jessica felt it wise to engage in an intellectual tussle of Brobdingnagian proportions and she got it, taking great umbrage to my post calling for a legislative pay raise. I will respond next week. 

Georgia legislators don’t need more money. They’re only struggling because of the way they’ve morphed the position of a legislator.

The argument is that the $17,000 doesn’t amount to much when you spread it out over 12 months – just a measly $1,500 or so. But the job isn’t supposed to be spread out over 12 months, despite the argument that legislators “do so much outside of voting.”

I don’t know when the role of a legislator evolved, but the job isn’t about ribbon cuttings, Rotary luncheons, or parade floats. The job is about legislating. Sure, the other things are nice, but I would rather have a legislator who reads every bill, attends all the committee hearings, and votes their conscience than one who shakes hands, kisses babies, and attends art festivals.  Wouldn’t you? State representative John Pezold of Columbus told voters on the campaign trail before he was elected that he would always choose family and work over parades and things of that sort. Those voters knew what to expect when they entrusted him to go to the Capitol to vote, not decorate the prettiest float or prepare a nice speech for the county fair.

If legislators kept their role focused, the $17,000 over three months would put them around $5,700 a month, which isn’t so terrible if you ask the average Georgian.

And constituent services – those things are nice and necessary, but a state legislator isn’t going to spend hours upon hours arguing with the IRS or battling the DMV. Nine times out of ten, someone on the state level is going to help connect a constituent with the appropriate agency representative.

The other argument is that legislators who are self-employed take a hit on their business during the three months they’re under the Gold Dome. That is probably true, but there isn’t a sum of money that’s going to make up for the decline in trajectory of a business. Whether a lawyer, a tech guy, or a blue collar worker, you can’t just account for the hit a business will take during a season of session.

And those committee days outside the regular legislative session? Elected officials get per diem days for those, too.

So how much will be enough? Does it need to be the median income for Georgians, even though the work is three months out of the year? Or a flat fee of $40,000? At what point does the salary become so high that it just makes sense for them to be full-time legislators all year long? There will always be someone who makes less serving than they could in the private sector. Isn’t that the point?

Public service is supposed to be a sacrifice, meaning, you give up something to serve. In New Mexico, legislators don’t receive a salary. State representatives and state senators in Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Vermont all make less than Georgia legislators.

The entire definition of how we see those who govern us has skewed the perception of what they “deserve.” If we returned to seeing our legislators as those who govern instead of those that make us feel important by attending our events, the $17,000 salary would be plenty with a little left over.

It’s harsh, but that’s what I’m here for.

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Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

The median Georgia voter isn’t much better informed or involved than a bag of hair, so median Georgia pay isn’t a very appropriate standard.

There are many uncompensated meetings legislators attend (and should attend) in the capacity as a representative that have nothing to do with floats or county fair speeches….town halls, county commission/city council, public information, PTA meetings, etc.

I with Ed, and certainly don’t want a full time legislature.

WesleyC
WesleyC

The biggest problem with bargain basement pay for legislators is that it reinforces a system where monied elites are the only ones able to serve. How many working Georgians are able to take three months off to serve as a legislator? Not many obviously, which is why you see very few if any teachers, blue collar folks, middle class professionals, etc. at the capitol. The legislature is mostly comprised of lawyers, business owners, personal physicians, etc., who are both relatively wealthy and able to navigate around their professional obligations. Personally I’d love to see a broader cross section of Georgians… Read more »

Andrew C. Pope
Andrew C. Pope

Speaking of influence of lobbyists… If you’re a legislator, this is a temporary side-gig that provides you with some money but, let’s be honest, not enough to offset the opportunity cost of having to go up to Atlanta for three months every year. How motivated are Representatives and Senators to actually read, research, and comprehend the flurry of legislation being proposed? I think even the most diligent and dedicated of them (hi Buzz!) would tell you that there’s just no way to be well-versed in everything going on. So, what do they do? They rely on lobbyists and organizations like… Read more »

chefdavid
chefdavid

They get paid. There was an article on how much they made on per diem. And let’s not forget the lobbyist gifts. http://investigations.blog.ajc.com/2015/04/13/the-top-10-lobbyist-targets-of-2015/ Some like Sen. Mullis enjoy a hefty salary a top their legislature salary.

Bart
Bart

How about we change to biennial legislative sessions during odd, non-election years but keep paying the current $17K. Then they would double their pay for half the work which is basically what we get anyway as election year sessions are nothing more than a 3 month fundraising interruption.

http://www.ncsl.org/research/about-state-legislatures/annual-versus-biennial-legislative-sessions.aspx

chefdavid
chefdavid

I am in favor of that. Less days for them to pass BS legislation.

Andrew C. Pope
Andrew C. Pope

I actually like the idea and have seen it in other states. Obviously the governor can still call a special session, if need be, in the even year.

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

Biennial with term limits
They might then address some of the very complex regulations and tax reportings.

wellsea
wellsea

While we are at it might as well get rid of the house and have one chamber and just add some seats.

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

Or in effect a biennial session, with the off year a one week session for budget adjustment.

FreeDuck
FreeDuck

She’s right. Legislators are supposed to serve and they get plenty in return for it outside of dollars. It wasn’t supposed to be a profession.