Do state lawmakers deserve a raise?
How about a swift kick in the…?
We get what we pay for
OK, before we get started, a note to our readers: The editor has brought down the hammer. Glib, shallow pinhead that he is, he says he wants us to deliver “bite-sized wisdom” from now on. I tried to point out why that sounded a lot like an oxymoron but, well, if you have to explain…
In any event, he’s the boss, so here we go: 250 words from now on. And I’m already down to 175.
The fever pitch of the debate over “per diem” pay in the General Assembly this week—to say nothing of Senate President Brandon Shaffer’s eleventh-hour about-face in voting against giving “out-state,” mostly rural lawmakers a raise—is all the reason we need to throw these bums out. Not because of the pay hike itself; it’s a drop in the bucket and may even be warranted for those members who hail from far enough away that they have to pay for temporary digs in Denver during the session. Granted, their $30,000 annual salary doesn’t bridge the gap.
Rather, it’s because this is the issue that, as far as anyone can tell, has stirred the most passion so far this session among the 100 empty suits and skirts under the Dome. Not the budget. Not jobs. Not any of the stuff they claim to care about. Just their pay.
It’s on its way to the guv for his signature now that the legislature has finished fast-tracking its dirty work. Maybe now lawmakers can do some real work.
Not only was it reasonable for state lawmakers to raise the per-diem reimbursement rate for their rural colleagues, but it’s also a good thing that the Senate, if not the House, devoted as much time and energy as it did to poring over the issue in plain sight of the public. Mal may sneer at lawmakers waxing indignant, at length, over their paltry pay while the rest of that state is still struggling to recover from a recession. Yet, even in this economy, the public needs to come to grips with the fact that it cannot have a functioning democracy if it expects its democratically elected representatives to devote themselves to our democratic institutions, more or less, for free.
It’s Colorado’s “citizen legislature” that is the culprit here. It purports to be a part-time job, but it requires full-time service, and then some, for the first four months of each year. That means especially the rural lawmakers must drop out of their regular lives—setting aside careers, small businesses and even families—when the gavel comes down on opening day every January.
Some will say the current crop of officeholders isn’t worth the extra expenditure, and that might hold true, but we won’t know what caliber of candidate we can attract in the first place until we are willing to let them earn a real living at it.
Our “public servants” are in fact public employees. If we expect them to do their jobs well, we must pay them accordingly.
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