Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Texas Needs A Real Legislature

Skimming through the blogs this afternoon I came across this one, commentary on a poll run at the El Paso Times and a local TV station. The poll came up with some surprising results. The question was “Should the Texas Legislature meet every year instead of every two years?” With an error bar of 5.5%, the poll reported that 67% responded in the affirmative.

Jobsanger, the blogger, echoes the reaction that I hear from most Texans, especially ones that actively watch the wild goings-on in the state house and senate: “These guys screw up enough by meeting only once every two years. Let's just leave it the way it is.”

When Texas’ constitution was written during post-Reconstruction, there was a huge mistrust of government. Small government meant low impact, low intrusion. After having every aspect of their lives examined by the Reconstruction government, Texans made sure that state government would have a minimal effect on people’s lives.

And that is just about what has happened in the 80th Legislature, low impact. Over 5000 bills have been filed, and the vast majority will not make it to a 3rd reading. Both good bills and bad bills will die tonight at midnight. A few real stinkers got through both houses. But CHIP was restored to at least 67,000 families, maybe more as the House and Senate meet to reconcile their differences.

140 days is just not long enough to pass legislation that is needed. This was proved last year when the legislature was in special session to revamp how the state pays for education.

It might happen again this year if critical bills don’t make it to the floor for a vote.

So Texans are in a quandary, gosh darned if they do, and gosh darned if they don’t. Well, all except for those 67% in El Paso. They seem to have come to a decision. Texas is the 3rd most populous state in the union and growing. Texans can no longer afford small government because while a small but ineffective government does little damage, it is ineffective all the same.

Let me tell you how we fix this: pay House and Senate members a living wage. Keep the per diem during sessions, but pay them $110,000 annually. Do you know what this does? It eliminates the “freak factor”. With just a few exceptions, everyone in the legislature has some other source of income, and that source allows them to be absent from their jobs half a year every other year.

Could you do that? Can I? No way. Most people can’t. Only people with special circumstances can do this. Members who have an employed spouse are just about the only ones who qualify as “normal”. Everyone else are freaks of nature. Business owners, lawyers in private practice, gas passers (anesthesiologists). By paying a living wage, Texans get to pick from the cream of the crop, not just the special people who can do this and still eat (or ominously, do this and eat by dipping into their campaign funds).

If you do this, you get to pick from people with healthier outlooks. You don’t have to deal with the Leo Bermans, the Charlie Howards, or the Wayne Chisums of the world. Better people will stand up for office if they know that they can do this and still feed their families.

So to get an effective legislature, one that meets every year, passes good legislation with minimal stinkers, first fix the freak factor.

Everything else will fall into place.


John McClelland said...

So did the same people who want a Leg that meets every year want to provide our Reps and Senators with a pay increase? Probably not.

Toby Belch said...

Keep the per diem during sessions, but pay them $110,000 annually. Do you know what this does? It eliminates the “freak factor”.

How does that eliminate the freak factor? Have you looked at the some of the members of full-time legislatures? Have you seen some of the members of Congress?

Do you really think that people like Charlie Howard and Chisum wouldn't be able to make it back in under your scenario?

As much as we need to look at how the Legislature operates, I don't think giving them that kind of salary is the right way to do this.

Probably expanding the number of days to about 250 from the current 140 and increasing the per diem would be about right.