I’ve been around long enough to remember when the state legislature was a part-time job, and members of the Senate and Assembly had “regular” jobs in addition to their gig under the big-top. I remember the arguments advanced to make the job of Senator or State Representative a full-time job with benefits and greatly increased pay.
Gotta have a full-time professional legislature, the politicians said. Gotta pay enough to attract good people, gotta give ‘em big staffs, gotta give ‘em dandy per-diems so they can afford to lodge and dine in our fair city; gonna get a lot better laws and a lot more work done.
Only nine other states have a “full-time” legislature. Ours is among the best-paid, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which sent ‘round a newsletter about this, last week. The WDC folks say the full state Senate convened in session on 17 days in 2009 and 14 days in 2010 before adjourning a few days ago.
The full Assembly was in session only 23 days in 2009 and 13 days so far in 2010, including two notorious all-nighters at the end of the just-completed session.
How do I find a job like that – where I only have to “work” a few days a month, make 50 grand a year plus the tasty “per diem” pay of several thousand bucks for most legislators – and get essentially automatic pay increases?
I’m not naïve. I know the politicians “work” just about every weekday, for weeks at a time, but they’re doing their business behind closed doors in their caucuses.
Another “benefit” of our full-time, professional state legislature: the people’s business done mainly behind closed doors.
Did I mention the lawmakers don’t even really have to write the laws they pass? Most of the time, the lobbyists do that for them. Unless one of the politicians gets a bee in his or her bonnet about some pet project, and they actually attempt to write a new law which will affect about ten people.
And once you get hired for this job, it’s pretty much yours as long as you want it. The deck is so stacked in favor of incumbents it just about takes a series of convictions on gruesome felony charges to get a politician out of office.
Yah, I’m cynical. I think we should return to a part-time legislature – about 3 months a year oughtta do it - and reduce the pay to 15 grand a year, so nobody can really “live” on the pay; and I think we should have term limits, so nobody gets a job forever.
I can dream, can’t I?