The General Assembly should pay much less… or much more.

Katherine Gregg reminds Rhode Islanders, via the Providence Journal, that representatives and senators in the state General Assembly get a raise when the country experiences inflation:

On July 1, their annual salaries went up by $199.63, from $16,635.74. to $16,835.37 a year. (The House speaker and Senate president make double that amount.)

And no, they did not vote to give themselves the raise.

Salaries for state lawmakers are governed by Article VI, Section 3 of the state Constitution, which calls for legislators’ pay to be adjusted annually based on “changes in the cost of living,” as determined by the United States government during a 12-month period ending in the immediately preceding year.

The debate these numbers prompt is less whether they should edge up (or down, as they sometimes do) than whether they’re too high or too low already.

Personally, I go back and forth on the question.  Were Rhode Island to have a convention to discuss amendments to our state’s constitution, I’d be interested in debate concerning two options:

  1. Convene the General Assembly only every two years for six months, so as to limit its members’ mischief and encourage longer-term thinking on subjects like the state budget.  The pay could stay the same for the year they’re in session or be halved annually if spread into consistent payments.  Having to conduct all business in that limited window might also make it more difficult to push all the action to the end of each session.
  2. Make the General Assembly full time and increase the pay to a livable annual salary.  The benefits of this approach (while risky) would be that legislators would have less excuse for the sneaky, non-transparent tricks at the end of each session and that working Rhode Islanders could afford to take office.  Activists, lawyers, and government workers have a ridiculous advantage when it comes to entering an office that can require intense work, but only for several months of every year, exactly when their children are finishing up school years.
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