Thursday, December 24, 2009
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Legislators’ Whining Means Part-Time Idea Is a Good One
By JON COUPAL
Sacramento lawmakers are unhappy with their jobs. Recent complaints by members of the Legislature include: People don’t appreciate them; solving problems is hard work; they don’t have the power they think they deserve; their retirement is mandated by term limits; there is no lucrative pension; and their pay is being cut—although they will remain the highest paid lawmakers in all 50 states at nearly $100,000 annually along with a car and another $30,000 a year in tax-free expense money.
If lawmakers don’t like their jobs, their dissatisfaction is not nearly as strong as that of the general public. The October Field Poll showed the Legislature’s approval at a record low 13 percent.
“Who wants to grow up and be held in low esteem by 87 percent of the people and have to deal with the budget and not have a darned thing to say about it,” Assemblyman Juan Arambula told the Los Angeles Times.
Imagine, in a state with 12.5 percent unemployment—and underemployment closer to 20 percent—record high foreclosures, massive public debt, a state budget likely to be $20 billion in the red next year, and some of the highest taxes in the nation, Californians are asked to worry about the morale of Sacramento politicians, a privileged class that fought tooth and nail to get where they are.
With representatives held in such low regard, it is hardly a stretch to say that most Californians feel freer and safer when the Legislature is not in session. Even other prominent elected officials have weighed in on the dysfunctional and corrupt nature of the California Legislature. Commenting on the negative regulatory environment in our state, Attorney General Jerry Brown said the state has adopted 30,000 laws since he was governor. “We’re overloaded by too many rules,” he said in a speech. And even Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a former state senator, told a meeting of Democratic lawmakers several weeks ago that most of their legislation was “garbage.”
So the burning question is: If all the legislators left the Capitol and closed the door behind them, how long would it take anyone to miss them?
For a superior model of how a state should operate, one only need look to another large, populous state: Texas.
Texas is a low tax state—no income tax—compared to California, and the public services the state provides are no worse, and are in some cases better. Public school children are one to two years of learning ahead of California students of the same age.
So when it comes to governing, what is the major difference between California and Texas? Texas has a part-time Legislature. Lawmakers meet a maximum of 140 days, every other year and are paid $7,200 annually.
Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of drawing the narcissistic, self-serving, career-conscious politicians that dominate our Legislature, we had more candidates who actually looked at elected office as public service? Candidates who, like those who serve in our armed forces or the Peace Corp, see service as a sacrifice on behalf of the entire community? Candidates who have actually demonstrated success in the private sector and are willing to take a pay cut to go to Sacramento to do the right thing on behalf of the voters who sent them there?
This may be asking a lot, but it is not asking too much in a state of 37 million, millions of whom are more qualified to hold office than those now representing us, but are unable or unwilling to make legislating a full-time job.
Those at Citizens for Californian Reform, www.reformcal.com, believe a part-time citizen Legislature would lead to better government and are gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would make legislators part-time and would cut their pay correspondingly.
Perhaps the best argument for a part-time Legislature is that the full-timers are already whining about it. And the best indicator of the real value of any initiative is the degree to which members of the legislature think it’s a bad idea.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company