Some consider part-time state Legislature

January 23, 2012 8:42:07 PM PST
Would California be better off with part-time legislators, who get paid part-time salaries? Enough people think so that there's a good chance you'll vote on it later this year. ABC7 got a peek at just how much that would save taxpayers, but opponents say the state can't really afford those savings.

Californians don't think much of their state lawmakers. A Field Poll last month showed the Legislature's approval rating at just 22 percent. Now a ballot initiative is in the works to make the Legislature part time by cutting pay from $95,000 to just $18,000 a year, plus limited expenses, shortening sessions to 30 days in January and 60 days in May, converting state budgets to two years, and banning state government jobs and lobbying while in office and 5 years after.

"The bottom line is to return the California State Legislature back to the citizens of the state of California, reduce their time in office, and make them live under the same rules they create," said Assm. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield.

A new analysis by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office says California could save $9 million just from cutting salaries and tens of millions of dollars more eliminating staff and travel.

"You save costs, but at what expense?" said Phillip Ung from California Common Cause.

California Common Cause, a government watchdog, says a part-time Legislature will cause conflicts of interest because lawmakers will need full-time jobs.

"The conflict would be what is their full-time priority? Is it their full-time job? Or is it the part-time job that they're earning $18,000 in?" said Ung.

Critics also say it's unclear what type of candidate would be attracted to a part-time elected office and how a part-time Legislature would work with a full-time Governor and full time lobbyists. It may also be difficult to run California just three months out of the year.

"We need to act fast, we need to be responsive to the state. We need to be responsive to the 38 million people who live here. You can't do that on part-time, you can't do that for three months out of the year," said Assm. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

The length of Legislative sessions around the country vary, but the National Conference of State Legislatures says eight other states, including New York, are essentially full-time.


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