Full-Time Legislature? Please, God, No!
Around the State
Come on, Jeff. We've got four states in the nation in which legislators spend 80 percent or more of their time with their head up the government bubble -- California, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania. They, sir, are in deep fiscal trouble -- certainly worse off than Florida. And every one of the four has at least one faction calling for a legislative downgrade.
Does Florida really need bigger legislator salaries, fatter government, more crazy bills coming in out of the twilight zone? Do we want to give our lawmakers another excuse to spend more time away from their constituents?
Florida established a part-time Legislature for a reason. If we go the way of big blue states like California and New York, we risk creating a professional political class devoted to playing political games, seeking out even higher office for itself, and for 365 days a year -- not just 60-plus days as they have now -- finding ways to make life miserable for the rest of us. Don't you think we're doing enough of that already?
Clemens' constitutional amendment would need voter approval to succeed, and frankly, it seems unlikely. But I don't want to take a chance.
Please allow me to address the main points the Lake Worth Democrat makes in his case for a full-time Legislature:
He says we're too big to be run by "part-time employees." We are the fourth largest state, that's true. But that doesn't mean we should encourage politicians to develop myopia and delusions of self-importance, and give them more time, incentive and money to do further harm to we the people.
He says the Florida Constitution limits a legislative session to 60 days, not enough time for all the committee and subcommittee meetings, let alone competent budget analysis. Aw g'won! Legislators love prancing in front of the cameras trained on the bill-mill committee process. The way I look at it is this: Sure it's hard work. But it's free publicity, worth its weight in gold. It's kindergarten and elementary school for junior legislators and power trips for the seniors. This isn't something the taxpayers of Florida should ever have to pay extra for. Not ever.
He says the salaries of the 160 legislators, now at $30,000, would go up, but so what? Their staffs are already paid as full-timers. I agree the $20,000 to $40,000 more per legislator isn't the big ticket item it seems on the surface. But staff salaries are. States with part-time legislatures have between 1.2 and 3.1 staffers per member; but in full-time-legislature states the number of staffers per member averages 8.9. Now you're talking serious cash plus benefits.
He says part-time legislators often have to vote on issues tied to their full-time jobs back home. A conflict of interest. You have a conflict of interest, you declare it. Besides, legislators with real jobs -- in insurance, business, law, medicine -- who hold a real place in the state's rich tapestry, bring something vital to the table when deciding on issues important to the state's future. Turn them into full-timers and you create a class of privilege, a group of people acting on political expediency and dimming memory.
Part-time legislators have to go home and live with the consequences of their actions, full-timers do not. Most important.
Two decades ago a "legislative analyst report" on the average cost of a bill in California revealed that when bill printing, associated publications' histories, files, indexes, journals, chapters and reprints, bill room operation, legislative counsel and umpteen other services were added in, the cost was $13,733 per bill.
Said California radio commentator Geoff Metcalf back then, as reported in CalNews.com, "The cost to maintain the royal duchies of legislators is about $200 million per year -- not counting pensions. The 31-year experiment of a full-time Legislature in California should end."
It didn't. It has continued for another two decades, at a costlier pace. And we all know the result: The Golden State has dug itself into a woefully deep black hole.
Let's not tempt disaster with this proposal. Please.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.