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WI Legislature getting full-time pay for part-time work, one lawmaker says

By   /   January 30, 2013  /   News  /   3 Comments

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.

Forty-eight Wisconsin legislators, 36 percent of the Legislature, consider themselves “full-time” lawmakers, meaning they don’t have a second job. That’s more than twice the national average.

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]


Kirsten formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • My wife and I have always thought these know it alls need part time. There are enough laws in the way now, so go start your own businesses and try to survive. Wisconsin needs to go back to part time legislature like Texas. Look up how much they meet down there….

  • Franseenit

    Some years ago I was hired by a Wisconsin Technical College to teach one, one hour class 4 days per week. The prep time took me a minimum of 4 hours each day for which I would not be paid. Needless to say that was a 1 semester propostiion for me. What a rip off that was. Sounds like what Young wants to do. Maybe he doesn’t plan to invest time other than ‘face time’ during the sessions – in which case he should not be anyones representative. Senator Bob Jauch works very hard for his constituents and has the respect of everyone he represents. I am not in his district but I do spend time in his district and it isn’t hard to see that he takes his job very seriously. People talk highly of him and the work he does for them even when they don’t succeed with their issues of importance – he works very hard and is more than full-time.
    Scott you sound like someone who likes chaos and a ‘wild west’ atmosphere. If you like Texas – go there and don’t look back. Maybe you and your Tea Party folks just don’t like authority.

  • @Franseenit:disqus Don’t assume Scott is a member of the Tea Party unless he says it. I am a Tea Party member and I know my state senator as well. He works hard at any job he does and is always “working”, no matter where he is or what he is doing. His round trip to Madison is 6 hours. The laborer is worthy of his hire and if Rep Young thinks he only has a part-time job he should be payed as such or maybe they need a new representative.