A Full-Time General Assembly
This sorry state of affairs has led me to reverse my long-term opposition to a full-time legislature. Now I think that we need to make that change so we can have a citizen body. Here’s the why and the how.
The present General Assembly is loaded with union folks who do their master’s bidding. Actual union leaders, along with teachers, firefighters, and policemen, pack the assembly halls. Taxpayers shell out money for their substitutes on days they report to work on Smith Hill at times that are inconsistent with their full-time jobs. This is pretty ridiculous. It allows a situation where they can have their cake and eat it, an option no other working stiff has. (Municipalities should cease including such a provision in collective bargaining agreements).
Similarly, the part-time nature of the legislative jobs allows attorneys to pack the place as well. Insurance guys generally also have a contingent at the Statehouse. Legislation that pads their daytime pockets is no accident.
I agree with her reasoning but disagree with her solution. I think what she suggests could force the Assembly to go in the other direction and cause people to be more corruptible and be more-self-serving. Her employment terms would include:
The legislative members should serve full-time with the month of July off as a vacation. Pay them $35,000-$40,000 a year to work 9 a.m.-5 p.m. from Tuesday through Saturday (so average people can approach their legislators on a day they aren’t at work). Health care benefits should be offered. A 401K program should be in place. And here’s an important feature: Anyone already receiving a public pension from the state or municipality either must not collect it or be ineligible to serve.
Let me ask you this, do you want someone who is willing to do a full time job for $40,000 making the laws in this state and making decisions for you? Who would give up their job as a teacher making upwards of $70,000 a year and a few months a year off for $40,000 and one month off? Or a lawyer possibly making a six-figure salary? Would these people switch jobs? Of course not, and I get it, that’s her point. But who would run for office under this scenario? Probably not the “best and brightest”, which is not a situation that we really need.
If the answer is that it shouldn’t be about the money anyway and it should be about the desire to serve, then I agree totally, and let’s go in that direction. If we are going to make a major reform to the structure of the General Assembly, let’s go in the opposite direction from what Arlene suggests. Here’s what I would like to see happen.
First, zero compensation. If it really is about the “service”, then let’s truly make these people be public servants. Also, notice I wrote “compensation” and not just “pay.” There will be zero salary but there will also be zero health insurance and no retirement money, not that there is any pension for legislators now. New Hampshire gets away with paying their legislators $100 a year. So apparently that works.
Ok, so with no compensation, how will people be able to be there and serve either full-time or even with keeping it at its current schedule, the 4 pm bell time? Let’s change that too. If you’ve ever experienced some days at the General Assembly, you’ve seen that they’ll open at 4 pm and sometimes close as early as 4:30 pm, and then either head off to some committee hearings or head home. I’d push that back to a 6 pm start time. Now virtually anyone with a first-shift job can finish their normal work day and head to Providence for the Assembly sessions.
One other change that I’d like to see that actually works in another state, Texas, is to only have the Assembly meet every other year. It seems that in election years, they’re very concerned with getting their work done, getting out and back on the campaign trail. Ok, I’m willing to help them with that. The change I’d make here is they are elected in November, start the Assembly session the following January, go as long as they need to, even if that means going into, *gasp*, July, and then when they’re done, that’s it. They sit out the following year as they get the whole year unimpeded to run for re-election.
In a state the size of RI, why do we need the Assembly to meet every year and put in all kinds of crazy bills and create new crazy laws, when a state the size of Texas doesn’t need an annual legislature? It seems to work fine there, I’ll take it here.
That’s about it for now, but if any more evidence is needed of how a full-time Assembly does nothing to cut down on corruption, look no further than our neighbor to the north. Citing from the great internet source known as Wikipedia, here are their recent political convicts:
-Massachusetts Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi (D) was found guilty of using his position to secure multimillion-dollar state contracts for a software company in exchange for kickbacks.(2011)
-Massachusetts, Boston Councillor Chuck Turner (D) was expelled from the Boston City Council on December 1, 2010 following his conviction on federal bribery charges
-Massachusetts Speaker of the House Thomas Finneran (D) pled guilty to one count of obstruction of justice and received 18 months probation.(2004)
-Massachusetts State Senator Dianne Wilkerson (D-MA) was video taped by the FBI stuffing bribe money into her bra. Charged with tax evasion (1997), ethics violations (2001) and perjury (2005)
-Massachusetts Speaker of the House Charles Flaherty (D-MA) pled guilty to felony tax evasion for submitting false receipts regarding his business expenses and to violations of the state conflict of interests law.(1996)
Massachusetts state representative Nicholas Mavroules (D-MA) pleaded guilty to bribery charges. Mavroules was a US Representative, not a MA state rep. h/t Bill Rappleye
To me, that says that if anything, more power can lead to more corruption. I searched the same Wikipedia list for corrupt NH legislators and found none. One arrested for DUI, but certainly not the rogue’s gallery we see up in Mass.
That’s my opinion. If we’re going to make a radical change to the Assembly, let’s go unpaid, every other year and have them start later in the day. Sounds like a better combination to me.