The other night on Facebook I wrote a statement, which was somewhat off the cuff and just a little tongue-in-cheek, but to my surprise and delight a number of people took it more seriously than I thought they would. This is what I wrote:
Thinking about Jackie Wellfonder and her poll about salaries…I think certain members should get an increase. But how about this radical proposal?
In year one after election, you receive $80,000 in salary. It may seem like a lot, but surely there are expenses a freshman legislator has to pay.
In year two, though, the salary drops to $70,000…then $60,000 in year 3 and $50,000 in year 4. Still want another term? Well, the salary will go down in $5,000 annual increments from there to a stipend of $10,000 a year for veteran legislators.
My hope is that this would encourage the average person to run for political office, serve their term, and then return to private life – just as our Founders intended.
Bear in mind the Maryland General Assembly members get just over $40,000 in salary, plus a stipend for living expenses during the session. I don’t think the latter part is completely unfair considering a large portion of them don’t live that close to Annapolis and the hours during session are irregular.
But to me there’s something wrong with the system where members (of both parties, although Democrats tend to be the worse offenders) feel they should serve twenty or thirty years – or even longer. The current Maryland poster child for this phenomenon is State Senator Norman Stone. At the age of 78, he has spent almost 2/3 of his life in the General Assembly – elected to the House of Delegates in 1962, he moved up to the Senate in 1966 and has served there since. (Stone decided in July to forgo yet another term.)
There’s something to be said for institutional knowledge, but a half-century is way too long in public office.
So I came up with my idea, for which I really didn’t do any math. But I think the ideal legislator for me would be someone who has spent a little bit of time in local political office (perhaps 4 to 8 years) but much more time building a business, raising a family, and being active in the community outside the political arena. He or she would spend 4 years in Annapolis, or perhaps 8 on the outside, and then return home.
Or I can use a personal example. I have spent almost 12 years overall as a member of a local Republican Central Committee – about four years in Ohio and I’m into my eighth year here. I am planning on running one more time next year – win or lose, it’s my last election because I promised myself I would not run again for office after I turn 50. To me, being on the Central Committee is a good place to get a political start and I’d like to see some younger people occupy that office after I’m through. I’m not going to be a Central Committee member in my nineties, as we have now. (Out of nine in our local group, the three youngest among us are all in our forties, with the average somewhere around retirement age.) Once I win, I will be set up for a total of about 16 years of political service and four wins on the ballot. (I also lost once, but I was shortly thereafter appointed to serve an adjacent precinct.)
Simply put, the idea was not to stay in office forever – it seems like we tried to set ourselves up NOT to have elected royalty. So I figured if the financial incentive gets smaller, perhaps people would think twice about making politics a career. Of course they still could since my state restriction wouldn’t apply to federal office. Then again, we only have ten such posts available.
Obviously there’s another method of achieving this goal, and that’s term limits. Like the federal government, our state’s chief executive is limited to two consecutive terms but legislators have no such restriction. While I understand the libertarian argument that people should get to elect whoever they want – even if it’s for a tenth or twelfth term – the abuse of this system led me to change my mind about this issue, for I was once opposed to term limits on those grounds.
Once we take care of the political side, the next step is to shrink the size and role of government so that career bureaucrats can’t run the show, either. That’s a more difficult path to take, but it’s the item we have to explore in order to rightsize government.
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