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Maybe it’s Time to Go Home.

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Thursday, June 19th, 2008
Baton Rouge, Louisiana




 When the Speaker of the House of Representatives took the microphone last week in support of a 300% pay raise for legislators in Louisiana, one of his arguments was that the job had become full time.  “It is a misconception that this is a part-time job,” he told his colleagues.  So the question is simply this.  Should Louisiana, or for that matter any state, have a full-time state legislature?  I say no.

 The list of reasons is long, particularly in Louisiana.  But let’s simply start with a clear prohibition that exists under the state’s constitution.  Article X, Section 29.1 says indubitably:  “¦”the following elected”¦officials are hereby deemed to be part-time public servants”¦: (1) Any legislator.”Â  You can not get more clarity than that. 

 So should the Constitution be changed?  After all, say some legislators, they have a long list of problems to deal with, and the post Katrina and Rita recovery seems to keep them busy around-the-clock.  And they often make the point that other states have full-time legislatures, so Louisiana needs to follow suit if it’s going to be progressive and bring the state fully into the 21st century.

 Actually, there are only four states that presently have full-time legislatures,   California
Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.  And in each of these states, there is a major push to revert back to part-time lawmakers.

 Our next door neighbors in Texas meet once every two years, and there is no major push to change.  Texas Gov. Rick Perry observes:  “There are people who always think, ‘Let’s have a full-time legislature.’ I happen to think that’s just asking for trouble. When you have a full-time legislature, they just feel pretty inclined to be doing something. So they are going to dream up new laws, new regulations and new statutes — and generally all of those cost money,” Perry says

 Historically, America‘s founding fathers were distrustful of people seeking political power.” Whenever a man has at a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct,” observed Thomas Jefferson.  The future president’s view was that those elected should be temporary public servants, using common sense to serve for a short time, then return to live and work with their neighbors under the regulations they had enacted.

 I remember a few years ago listening to a lecture by Ed Meese, the former attorney general to President Ronald Reagan.  He said Reagan had concluded that he had made a big mistake in supporting the full-time legislature when he first ran for governor back in 1966.  Present California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger agrees with Reagan, and feels California should return to a part-time legislature.  “Spending so much time at the state Capitol, these legislators come out with strange bills.  I like them when they are scrambling and they really have to work hard.  Give them a short part of time.  Then good work gets done, rather than hanging.  That’s when they start getting creative with things.”

(I wonder how the California governor would react to a whole list of new laws passed by the current Louisiana legislature including making the Sazerac the official state cocktail?)

 So ignoring present constitutional prohibitions, what are the arguments being made to give the current legislature a 300% raise, and have them spend a lot more time at the state Capitol in Baton Rouge?

 We hear about the huge growth in the state budget, now more than $30 billion, and therefore many more working hours are involved by legislators in reviewing spending priorities.  But in actuality, much of the money to be appropriated has been dedicated.  Almost one third of the present budget comes from federal funds, much of it related to Katrina and Rita recovery.  More than half of the overall budget has been locked in by the legislature to spend on specific purposes like highways.  So in actuality, there is not been that much growth to oversee.

 We also hear abut the need for new legislation to “keep up” with other states.  But realistically, why is it so important to propose a litany of new legislation?  Are there any new laws out there the state really needs?  The major problems facing Louisiana today are in the areas of education, health care, job development and affordable insurance. And virtually every new program can be put in place by the executive branch under present Louisiana law.  It would be hard to point to any newly passed law during this current legislative session that really is deemed to be necessary to solve some immediate problem.

 Many feel the legislature should act as the Board of Directors, reviewing the budgets of various state agencies, and building in performance quotients to see that services are performed with it effectively and efficiently.  But isn’t that the same job undertaken by boards of directors of many of the countries large corporations that often deal with a much bigger budget than  Louisiana’s?  Such boards meet monthly, and are certainly not full time.

 If lawmakers are going to follow the spirit of the Constitution and be responsive to the needs of the majority of citizens in Louisiana, they will serve best by coming to the state capital for several months a year.  Then return to their community and spend the next 10 months working and living under laws they have created.  There is an ivory tower around the state capital, and a legislator’s self-importance grows and becomes infectious.  Being back home on a regular basis, over most of the year, is the best way to share an open perspective, and obtain a sense of balance of what it will take to move the state forward in the years to come.

 Simply put, if current members of the legislature, in their wisdom, feel like they have undertaken a full-time job, then that in itself may be the problem.  If they quickly shut things down in Baton Rouge and come back home to the real world, perhaps a little common sense will prevail when it comes to major salary increases, and passing new laws that when you get right down to it, are really not that necessary.

 After the pay raise fiasco, a large number of voters feel their new legislature is out of touch.  It will continue to be viewed in this light if legislators maintain the position that their only paycheck should come from the state capitol.  Voters just aren’t buying it.



“No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.”

Mark Twain


Peace and Justice.

 Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s column appears weekly, and is published in a number of newspapers and on websites throughout Louisiana.  You can read past columns by going to Jim’s website at www.jimbrownla.com.     Jim’s regular radio show on WRNO, 995fm out of New Orleans can be heard each Sunday from 11:00 am till 1:00 pm.  It is streamed live, world-wide at WRNO.com.







11 Responses
  1. Brian

    I completely disagree. I have often called my old represenative (James David Cain) to help clear up issues with the state bureaucracy. He spent many hours contacting the right people and acting as “my represenative” in the state government. I was not asking for any special favors. I only wanted the state to clear up its’ own mistakes. He was my advocate, despite the legislature not being in session. Nope, I don’t ever recall contributing to any of his campaigns, so he didn’t owe me anything but a part time effort. He did however, go beyond the part time job classification and resolved several extremely disturbing mistakes made by the several state agencies. I want to be represented that way in government. It is true that I probably could have resolved the issues over a period of several months or a year and a lot of legal fees but I found it most encouraging to see my represenative actually “represent me”, instead of hiring attorneys. Perhaps other citizens have not had the fortune to see how well their own represenative can actually “represent”.

  2. saveourstate

    I agree Jim. I think they spend too much time down there and government keeps growing and growing. Most of the money is dedicated to certain funds and the can’t touch it. My personal opinion is that we need to scrap the Constitution (all 15 gazillion pages) and start from scratch.

  3. Guido

    I am loath to back up Tucker but … he never supported a 300% pay raise. That’s a quadrulpling of pay. No one in this process ever supported QUADRUPLING the salary. Tucker spoke up for a doubling (or a 100% increase) … down from tripling (or a 200% increase).

  4. Don W.

    Jim, it would be nice if the voters of Louisiana had the same right to put items on the ballet like California has. We need a constitutional amendment to reduce legislative sessions to once every 2 years, the same as Texas. I agree with Mark Twain, our liberty is not safe as long as the Louisiana Legislature is in session. Too many silly laws are enacted, and most of the session is foolishness.
    Don W.



  6. John

    Ditto’s to your comments Jim!! We DON’T NEED full time Legislators but LIMITED GOVERNMENT. This issue is a prime example of just how ‘out of touch’ they are and ‘full of themselves’ at the same time. Their true colors showed through with all of their waiving of procedures to get this through session. DISAPPOINTING!

  7. Scott W. Johnson

    Because of these full-time facists in Baton Rouge, I’m making plans to leave this state. I was born and reared here and everytime I listen to a newscast I hear that the “law” makers are passing laws, making life MORE difficult for the people of this state. I understand the state bird is going to be replaced by pick a finger!

  8. Tom


  9. On pay raise of State Reps and Senators.

    Since the people who pay taxes are the ones that furnish the money to run the state and it is the people of Louisiana that vote for the elected senators and representatives, how did the people give up the right to decide if a pay raise would be in order?

    Should there be a bill put before the public for voting to determine if the people should have the right to determine if a pay raise is in order for Senators and Reps.

    It seems that it would be prudent to allow the people that furnish the money to determine if a raise is in order for the employees of the people, namely the Senators and Representatives.

    In the private sector the ones that pay out the money determine how much is paid out for the labor furnished. It would seem that this rule should be followed in our legislature also. I will vote for my representative if he will accept a salary of $30,000 per year.

    When one runs for an office, he should state what salary he will accept if he is elected.

  10. Properly structured compensation is one of the best drivers of behavior there is. What if:

    Why don’t we consider some of the following options:

    1. Use the Moon Griffon model – leave pay where it is now and change to every other year sessions.

    2. Freeze pay at current levels and cut length of sessions from current maximum of 85 days (?) to 60 days in effect providing a 30% increase.

    3. Freeze pay but guarantee pay raises when they meet and reduce the number of laws by ____ %

    4. Freeze pay but pay a bonus when they reduce the # of bills introduced below 2,500 in any session.

    5. Raise pay but require for every new law passed they must remove two antiquated laws.

    6. Freeze pay and give an increase in expense allowances (all uses) and allow them to keep half of what they don’t’ spend – the rest of the savings goes back to the state.

    7. Raise pay to their desired level but REMOVE all other perks – OGB, Retirement, free offices or subsidized housing (let them pay rent for the space they want), AND DO NOT ALLOW TIME IN THE LEGISLATURE TO COUNT TOWARDS other Retirement systems.

    8. We could even offer “Pay for Performance” (a ___ % increase each time the state moved up in ranking against some index (to be determined) of important measures (education performance, taxes, health measures, household income, etc.

    9. Maybe for a select group we could offer a pay raise if they didn’t come to the session. We could use your Best and Worse list to define that group.

    I could go on but I won’t. Consider sponsoring a contest (The prize could be a night at the Governor’s Suite in the refurbished Capitol House) for the best pay raise alternative!

    I’d welcome your feedback.

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