By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Seven days of actual debate does not a full-time Legislature make, and it’s certainly not worth the $49,943 annual salary paid to Wisconsin lawmakers, Rep. Leon Young says.
So the Milwaukee Democrat is floating an idea to make a Wisconsin legislator’s job a part-time gig – and he would slash lawmakers’ pay by 75 percent, to $12,000, as part of the deal.
“If you want to be streamlined, and both parties, especially Republicans, have always talked about saving money for the state, saving taxpayers, if you’re sincere about that, sometimes you have to look at your own house,” Young said Thursday.
Using data from the Assembly Chief Clerk’s office, Young said the Assembly only met in session for 34 days during the 2011-12 biennial session – including just seven days last year.
Yet a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures categorized Wisconsin as one of 10 states in which legislating is essentially a full-time job, requiring 80 percent or more of a lawmaker’s time.
States in that category pay their lawmakers more – an average of $68,599 each including salary, per diem and other benefits, as of 2008, according to the report.
There’s also an additional staffing cost: States with full-time legislatures have an average of 8.9 staff members per lawmaker, versus 1.2 per lawmaker in legislatures that operate part time.
According to the Wisconsin Blue Book for the 2011-12 Legislature, the 33-member Senate had 169 employees, and the 99-member Assembly had 218 employees.
The Legislature’s budget last year, including service agencies, was $147,735,500. Service agencies include the reference, finance and audit bureaus, as well the Office of Legislative Counsel.
Most of the other states in Wisconsin’s category in the NCSL report are significantly larger or more populous, including California, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida and Illinois.
Young said he’s not sure if Wisconsin lawmakers should be doing more in the time already allotted, or if they should working less.
And he noted that lawmakers do more than sit in session. They attend committee meetings and spend time in their home districts talking with constituents and acting on their constituents’ behalf.
But he said he’s trying to put Wisconsin more in line with states of similar size and population.
“I’m more so trying to streamline government, making us more effective and saving taxpayers money,” he said.
“We can, for the amount of time for the typical level of work that we’re doing and the amount of bills that we take up … we can do it in a more timely manner,” he said.
Asked their opinion of Young’s proposal, Wisconsin Reporter’s Facebook followers largely supported the idea:
“For 50,000 they should work from 8-5, 5 days a week just like the rest of the people have to.” – Georgene Kapla
“They do put in the time and most do earn their pay. I would like to see the other perks removed …. $88 per diem for every day in session? Not to mention the other allowances they get.” – Steve Abrahamson
“Pay them min. wage see if they can support themselves and families on it like so many of us have to.” – Andy Harrolle-Iopota
Others noted the similarities between Young’s legislation and a Republican-backed proposal that could cut the Milwaukee County Board’s budget, sharply reduce supervisors’ salaries and eliminate their benefits.
“Is (Young’s bill) in retaliation to the proposal to cut the Milwaukee county board salary? If so absolutely no comparison and petty. State legislators actually do work very hard for our state and have real work to do!” – Laurie Obrien Wolf
At the outset, the future of Young’s plan isn’t exactly bright.
Realistically, he’d probably need to find a Republican sponsor to help breathe some life into the proposal, because the GOP holds majorities in the Assembly and Senate.
He’s also asking lawmakers to dock their own pay 75 percent.
And because he’s proposing a constitutional amendment to get it done, lawmakers actually would have to take that vote twice – once this session and again in the 2015-16 session, before the issue would go to a statewide referendum for final approval from Wisconsin voters.
Contact Kirsten Adshead at [email protected]