By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Sen. Bob Jauch lives 317 miles from the state Capitol.
Jauch, D-Poplar, makes the 10-hour, round-trip drive every week the Legislature is in session, arriving the night before to be there for the morning start.
He also works in his home district, getting locals’ opinions about a proposed nearby mine or helping them access unemployment benefits, for example.
Jauch is among 48 Wisconsin legislators, 36 percent of the Legislature, who consider themselves “full time,” meaning they don’t hold down a second job.
That’s more than twice the national average of 16.4 percent, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, although the NCSL data is from 2007, the latest available.
Wednesday, Jauch listed a series of constituent-related events he’ll attend around his district — including over the weekend — leading to session day next week.
“Anywhere I go, whether it’s to the grocery store or a restaurant or out to a movie theater, I’m in contact with constituents,” the senator said, adding, “It is a job that consumes my entire life.”
Jauch, who entered the Legislature in 1982, wasn’t complaining. He was explaining why he considers legislative work a full-time job, for which taxpayers pick up the tab.
As Wisconsin Reporter noted last week, 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.
The 2011-12 Legislature had 169 employees serving the 33-member Senate and 218 employees serving the 99-member Assembly.
Last year, Wisconsin lawmakers claimed $774,858 in per diem requests, according to the Associated Press. In addition to their salaries, lawmakers are allotted up to $88 a day — the per diem — to cover the cost of coming to Madison. Dane County lawmakers get up to $44 a day.
The NCSL lists Wisconsin as one of 10 states with full-time legislatures.
Alan Rosenthal, a Rutgers University political scientist and expert on state legislatures, said there’s “no evidence that I know of that full-time legislatures work better than part-time legislatures.”
“I think it’s likely that … full-time legislators do devote more time (to the job) because they have support, they have staff support and district office support, probably spend more time dealing with constituents and constituent services,” Rosenthal said.
“I think the largest part of that, the reason for full-time legislatures, is that legislators wanted to do politics full time,” he said. “That’s what they like.”
Rep. Leon Young, D-Milwaukee, thinks Wisconsin lawmakers are getting full-time pay for part-time work.
Since the new Legislature took office Jan. 7, he said, the Assembly has been in session three days.
That includes the day they were sworn in and another day they spent debating new rules governing the chamber’s procedures.
Young is proposing a constitutional amendment that would make the Wisconsin Legislature a part-time body that meets only during the first three months of the year.
He also would cut lawmakers’ nearly $50,000 annual salary by 75 percent, to $12,000.
Jauch called Young’s plan “a childish proposal.”
“It is maybe based on how hard (Young) works, but it doesn’t reflect the effort that I think most lawmakers, full or part-time, do,” Jauch said.
Young brushed off the criticism.
“Sometimes when you want to change government, streamline it, make it more efficient, you’re not always going to make people happy,” he said.
Young said he received the draft version of his proposed joint resolution Tuesday and will start shopping it around in search of co-sponsors in the coming days.
“The system needs to be reformed,” Young said. “And we could get more stuff done in three months and then allow people go back to their districts and do real jobs.”
Contact Adshead at [email protected]
— Edited by John Trump at [email protected]