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.