April 23, 2010

Re: The Biggest Faction in the General Assembly

Justin Katz

The comments to Marc's post on the number of General Assembly members who benefit from public pensions are understandable, but most miss the point. Cutting the General Assembly's pay and authority isn't going to address the essential problem — namely, that an official position that doesn't pay much will attract those who have other motivations, including other ways to profit. It's nice to think that "community service" will suffice, but devoting so many hours to such a position over a limited number of months per year puts quite a cost on that service. Retired teachers and such whose unions have given them so much have motivation to put in time for "union service," but most Rhode Islanders simply cannot justify the time.

As to cutting the legislature's authority, while that may be a laudable goal, we'd have to begin by cutting the government's authority. Otherwise the power currently held by a large number of legislators would be given to a handful of administrators and bureaucrats. In other words, change in that direction would have to go in the other direction.

Frankly, I'd be willing to argue for paying the General Assembly members more given two reforms:

  • Representation is aligned directly with cities and towns, making it clear whom members represent, and providing a clear path from local politics to state politics.
  • The "part-time" of the legislature is spread out across the entire year, with fewer hours per week. In other words, make the schedule more in line with what working people can manage.

Unfortunately, the people who would have to enact such changes like their current advantage, so such reforms would be the project of decades, and I'm not sure Rhode Island has that long.

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Or why not go the other direction. Make them full time and allow no campaign donations? I guess the retired teachers could then still do the job and the unions could still "hire" people to be in the Assembly, but other people could then decide to make it their job. But who wants career politicians? And it'd be hard to term-limit people for the pay they'd make. Who is going to give up a career to be a state rep for 8 years or so?

I don't think there is a good solution in either direction, other than to get a smarter electorate who elects better and more ethical candidates. We need someone or some group to start educating the electorate of what's going on.

Posted by: Patrick at April 23, 2010 10:38 AM

Let's get this guy to run for Governor of RI and take care of everything for us!


Seriously, Central Falls seems to be leading the way in our march to oblivion.

Posted by: John at April 23, 2010 10:52 AM

"Representation more clearly aligned with cities and towns" (or counties where they were the basic local government unit)was once the norm throughout the country, but is less doable now since the Supreme Court's 1960s "one man, one vote" decisions.

Posted by: James Kabala at April 23, 2010 11:17 AM

I would gladly go -either way-... A Full-time legislature that paid well-enough to raise a family, or no pay at all to re-emphasize the 'public service' aspect of the job.

Either way, reforms that prevent political money-machines from building-up generational incumbencies should be investigated. Conflict of interest rules should be more stringent and enforced. Committee votes and attendance records should be made available via easy-to-digest APIs over the internet. Hours should be modified to let more working folks get involved. Legislators should have normal license plates. I could go on and on...

Posted by: mangeek at April 23, 2010 11:22 AM

Justin has it right. We need to dismantle the improper machinery of state government and return power and freedom to the towns and to the people. Only a part-time legislature will do that. Full-time, salaried politicians have too much incentive to grow government to "justify" their pay and use up their spare time.

Rhode Island has far too many laws that micromanage nearly every aspect of life in this state. In this GA session alone I have read at least five bills that each tinker with a detail of state-mandated insurance coverage - typically to force insurers to pay for yet another pet malady or service provided by a favored lobby.

We know the Democrats are enthusiastic partners in the special-interest, totalitarian government machine. Unfortunately, the Republican party in RI doesn't seem to have the courage to put forth an effective, conservative platform. So we are left with the Tea Party, who will only endorse candidates (from any party or no party) who genuinely embrace originalist Constitutional principles and positions.

In summary, RI's state government needs to become much smaller, and probably a majority of the laws on our books need to be repealed, if the state is to survive.

Posted by: BobN at April 23, 2010 11:24 AM

The only thing worse for RI than the RI legislature could be turning it into the MA legislature. Full-time, heavily compensated legislators are not the answer. Corruption is rampant in MA, the legislature is owned lock, stock, and barrel by special interest public unions, and spending is out of control. The only reason they have not utterly destroyed themselves is their size and the historical accident of having so many fine educational institutions, which in turn attract wealthy citizens to locate nearby to live off of the culture. Can you imagine what would happen if RI police earned 200k a year like they do in MA? Toll-takers earning 90-100k? An endless supply of redundant RIPTA inspectors making 80-100k as has happened with the MBTA? We do not want to go down that road, we will not come out of it alive. We have such a good template in our sister state New Hampshire - why not use it? The volunteer-citizen model works.

Posted by: Dan at April 23, 2010 11:19 PM

I have never understood the a-full-time-legislature-is-automatically-better line of reasoning. For a quick RI example of why, consider this example: Does George Nee gain or lose his influence over the fiscal policy of the state, if he becomes able to say to Democratic legislators: "vote differently than I want, and you lose your legislative seat AND your livelihood".

Posted by: Andrew at April 24, 2010 9:55 AM

Like was previously said - the US Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot proportion representation in legislative bodies based on geography alone - it must be by population.

Posted by: Dan at April 24, 2010 6:48 PM

" Does George Nee gain or lose his influence over the fiscal policy of the state, if he becomes able to say to Democratic legislators: "vote differently than I want, and you lose your legislative seat AND your livelihood"."

Alrighty then. Put me down as definitely pro part-time legislature.

Posted by: Monique at April 24, 2010 8:23 PM

I did not write the above comment written by "Dan."

Posted by: Dan at April 24, 2010 11:03 PM
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