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Saturday, May 28, 2005

Payday

Talk about preventing another Tennessee Waltz has already started in the legislature. One idea that many have talked about (and blogger Matthew White made a mention of it on his blog South end Grounds) is the idea of a full time legislature. The argument by those who've mentioned it in the halls of the legislature is that full time legislators would be paid more, and by virtue of a larger salary, corruption would be ended.

The big complaint is that we “only make $16,500 a year.” This is true, but also misleading. Our base salary is $16,500 (for 45 days of actual work) per year. But as legislators we also receive $12,000 per year for “office expense” (I know of no legislator that has a office outside of the house), not to mention health care coverage, which in this day and age is worth an enormous amount. We also receive 33 cents per mile for travel expense (it adds up).also a 401k plan. On top of that, we receive $141.00 per day as living expenses every day that we are here-even if it's only for fifteen minutes.

I have heard there are some legislators who abuse this per diem privilege. They come to their office when not in session, make a few calls and ask their secretaries to put them down on the books for full pay. Perhaps other than the leadership, there's really not a lot of reasons for a legislator or senator to be down here often.

Session could in fact be shorter if we worked full time during session. Instead, most days are half days in order to stretch out the number of days to boost per diem.

I am not going to address free meals or trips, maybe in another post. But my point is this: put your mind at ease. No one here is going to starve by being honest.

The next time you hear your state representative or senator whine how tough the job is or how he or she is underpaid, tell him/her to quit. There are plenty of good people in Tennessee who will fill their shoes. Saying that usually changes their tune quite quickly.

18 comments:

  1. Low pay is no excuse for corruption of any sort. Each legislator knew what the pay was (or should have) and about what the workload will be before they ran. That was the agreement.

    I'm not in favor of a full time legislature. I believe that would only encourage larger government and it's plenty big now.

    There were way too many bills filed over things that the state legislature really doesn't need to be dealing with. Let's make the task smaller, lets get honest people involved, let's not be afraid of accountability, let's not allow business to continue 'as usual' on that hill.

    Thanks for bringing sunlight to the process.

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  2. right on.

    Campfield for Governor!

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  3. Also, a part-time legislature conceivably (assuming every legislator isn't on the take) will require that people be more than just folks who can get elected to an office. We (citizens) benefit when we have true citizen-legislators; people who have real and continuing life experience with running a business, etc. And, as Kay says, we've got plenty of laws on the books as it is; "three months" is plenty of time to take care of necessary legislation. Also, a truly part time legislature can contribute to accountability. If a thousand bills werent' routinely being filed each year, Tennesseans could be better informed about pending legislation and legislators might be able to read bills before they vote on them.

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  4. Lest my comments be misunderstood, I did not advocate a full time legislature. I advocated trimming government to size that can be effectively managed by a part-time legislature, allowing legislators time to earn an honest living away from their legislative duties. If government is not trimmed up to that size, then pay them a full-time salary and ban all outside income. By eliminating outside income, you prevent situations like Newton holding a job he got from a lobbyist.

    I love a citizen legislature and hope that it is preserved. I've tried raising a family on less than $30k/year and it's awfully tough.

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  5. "[...] full time legislators would be paid more, and by virtue of a larger salary, corruption would be ended."

    Brilliant solution. Have a problem with people taking illegal income? Pay them more! That's what the government should have done with Martha Stewart and Bernie Ebbers: they weren’t making enough money legitimately so they should have just given them extra income so they wouldn't break the law.

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  6. MS Brooks, I couldn't agree more with what you stated. How many laws do we need passed? It also speaks volumes when people state that full timers would be less likely for corruption. Maybe we just need representatives that want to serve the people of the state and do an HONEST job. I'm sure there are plenty of people in the state that would represent the people just for expense payments. I feel that the legislature is in session too long as it is and would benefit by passing needed laws not just laws that make people criminals i.e. seatbelt laws for adults.

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  7. Powertee,

    Read my message under I heard a rumor after you gave me a history lesson I do not need.

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  8. Ditto (re. the reply), and don't get snippy, racr.

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  9. If Tennessee wants to be another California, go ahead and have a full time legislature. You have no idea the trouble they can cause for your state given the time to do so.

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  10. Thhe only way to prevent wholesale corruption of which the Senatewhores are typical is to refuse to tolerate it.

    This starts with the decent legislators, who should start standing up to and rejecting corruption, and call attention to it when they see it. Instead of closing ranks with those who betray trust, they should ostracise and curse them for that betrayal.

    And they should foster an environment where bribers EXPECT to be REJECTED and TURNED IN. Lobbyists will always be there, because when legislators control buying and selling, there will be those trying to buy and sell them. Individual reputation spreads quickly among these human ticks, and the honest person only has to refuse a few times before the offers thin out. Group reputation is even more powerful- wouldn't it be fine if lobbyists complained that the Tennessee legislature was straight, and that offering bribes was at best useless, and likely to result in denunciation and arrest?

    And it ends with the voters, who have to educate themselves in the ways things are done. WE decide who represents us. If we decide we don't want filthy thieves REPRESENTING US, then we shouldn't send them. And when one prove corrupt, he shuld be spit upon in the streets.

    I hope that might happen. But I fear that the power of being "able to get things done", plus years of "helping my friends" will prove too attractive to the stupid among us. It's not just stupidity, though- when you vote for a criminal, you give him permission and the opportunity to steal from yourself and the rest of us. YOU are an accomplice, a thief too.

    Ultimately it's personal responsibility.

    They say you can't cheat an honest man, and you surely can't buy one.

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  11. I applaud Rep. Campfield for not advocating his own pay... but I do think there is some merit to the idea. I am a firm believer that "you get what you pay for". Right now, I think we're reaping the returns of our minimal investments.

    Mind you there isn't enough gold in Ford Knox to make Jimmy Naifeh honest, but I do think a salary increase would decrease the temptation that some legislators might face to cross the line into the illegal abyss.

    I concur with several of the above posters that a truly part-time legislature would be ideal, but it is simply not realistic. There are very few "real jobs" that would allow an employee or owner to leave the business for at least 45 days out of the year. I know of many honorable men and women who own businesses where, while they could leave for that amount of time, their businesses would suffer much greater losses than the 16k+ per diem. Just because you are elected to public office doesn't absolve your need to put food on the table. Either we pay our legislators, or crooked companies will.

    Anyway, as a staunch Republican, I would rather have a part-time Congress and full-time State Legislature than what we have now.

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  12. Don Johnson: That's why they call it "public service" not a profession. Maybe if it wasn't lucrative, you'd have more true citizen legislators in there.

    Re. Staghound's comment about voters choosing good people, I read a saddening story from the Tennessean about how Memphians are reacting to Opn. Tenn. Waltz; in sum, "everybody does it, and the Feds just targeted black legislators, so we'll still vote for the perpetrators."

    http://tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050529/NEWS0201/505290413/1010/NEWS02

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  13. I generally agree with those who say a full-time legislature isn't necessary. I was unaware of the additional compensations TN legislators received. I was under the (misinformed) impression that all the TN legislators got was their base salary. The per diem you all get should be a nice incentive for any qualified good person to run...as long as these benefits remain the same, I don't see what the fuss is about.

    I have always been a proponent of a "happy medium" when it comes to elected officialdom. GOOD PEOPLE need to know that they can take the time off from whatever it is they do to serve the people without making their families suffer-at the same time, the folks need to know that keeping an elected legislature is not costing them a fortune.

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  14. TN needs to move to a high tech setup. Hold all meetings via internet broadcast so that reps do not have to travel, or miss as much time at their other jobs. There would be some initial investment to set this up and provide needed technology for all reps, but I would bet that travel expenses paid out over say the next ten years would easily cover it. This would also allow anybody else that is interested to see any meetings that they wish since it would only require an internet connection (available at all public libraries for free).

    So not only would this save TN money, it would make it easier for all tennesseans to see what is happening in their government as it happens.

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  15. The potential for fraud and hacking into the voting system of the legislature would be rampant under such a "high-tech" setup...

    Technology has advanced a great deal, but not to the point where such a venture could ever yet be considered a safe way for conducting daily legislative business.

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  16. Can someone explain how a $16k/year position translates into a $60k/year retirment? (i.e. Crutchfield)

    Or a part time postion is eligible for lifetime healthcare?

    Do those benefits exist in the private sector?

    Time to do some digging...

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