is Director of Government Affairs for the Reason
Foundation and coauthor of "Roadmap to Reform."
Why pay a full-time $99,000 salary for part-time results?...
When California shifted to a full-time Legislature
in 1966, it was supposed to offer professionalism and allow for
more focus on complex issues. But with a history of one government
crisis after another -- energy, workers' compensation, the budget,
education and traffic -- what has a professional Legislature
actually produced? Why pay a full-time $99,000 salary plus several
thousand more in yearly expenses for less than part-time results?
Like the vast majority of states, including powerful Texas and
Florida, California should return to a part-time Legislature.
Reducing the amount of time lawmakers spend in Sacramento would
force the Legislature to focus on the real priorities of the
Each session, several thousand legislative proposals are introduced,
and together they reveal a lack of focus on core priorities.
In recent years, bills have been introduced to mandate that gas
stations not charge people to put air in their tires, to require
couples seeking marriage to first read a state-sanctioned fact
sheet on how marriage will impact their lives, and another that
confronted the growing threat of unlicensed horse massage. The
latest example is an effort to ban ``Redskin'' as a high school
mascot. Each of these bills costs the taxpayers money, but more
important, they draw attention away from real problems.
Additionally, the Senate must approve more than 600 governor's
appointees. While it may be reasonable to require legislative
approval for the most powerful positions in the administration,
the Senate also confirms positions including the State Acupuncture
Board, the California Arts Council, the state librarian and the
state poet laureate, to name only a few. If a part-time Legislature
were instituted, many mundane tasks like these could be scaled
back, thus making the governor more accountable for his own administration.
With a reduced schedule, lawmakers would come to Sacramento
and know that priority issues would need the most attention.
They would be forced to question non-core activities. A lobbyist
shopping a bill about mandating free tire air or cracking down
on rogue horse masseurs would face a much harder sell. And creating
a government that questions what it does is a very good thing
for the public.
If the Legislature wants to avoid the wrath of the public, it
is not powerless, however. For starters, it should reconsider
its attitude toward the comprehensive California Performance
Review report that was just released. Rather than rejecting the
report outright as many legislators did, the Legislature should
work collaboratively to use the recommendations to balance the
budget structurally. It is amazing what $32 billion in savings
would do for legislators' public image.
Equally important, the Legislature should change the once-a-decade
process of drawing legislative districts so that the courts or
an independent body, not the Legislature, draw political district
boundaries. This controversy is a major source of fuel for the
part-time Legislature fire.
If the Legislature does not reform itself, the public may well
step in, just as it did with Proposition 140, which enacted term
limits and tightened the lucrative retirement package that legislators
challenges government faces are complex and deserve more attention.
the promises of a "professional" Legislature
have not been fulfilled.
If it really wants to remain a professional Legislature, it
should perform like one. CRO
copyright 2004 Reason Foundation