I actually have wrestled with this issue on occasion, but I cannot shake my belief in my original thought about it.
What is the issue? Whether to pay Texas legislators a working salary to serve in the state Senate and the House of Representatives. I kind of get the argument in favor of paying them a salary on which they could live.
I keep coming back to the idea that I really like the idea of a “citizen Legislature.”
So, let’s leave the salary issue alone.
The 86th Legislative Assembly has adjourned sine die. It completed its 140-day cycle and, near as I can tell, Gov. Greg Abbott won’t summon them back for a special session this summer.
That’s fine with me. Our legislators can get back to work on their day jobs.
Texans pay their legislators a whopping $600 per month, who also get an expense allotment of $190 per day when the Legislature is in session. That amounts to around $33,900 when the Legislature is in session, and about $41,000 for a two-year term for a member of the Texas House of Representatives.
Is that enough for someone to live on? Of course not! But that isn’t the point.
The Texas Constitution ostensibly allows for regular folks to take a break every odd-numbered year for about five months to write laws, to argue among themselves and to persuade each other to support their legislation.
When they’re done, they go home and resume whatever it is they do when they aren’t in Austin.
The Legislature also appropriates money for staff, some of whom serve between legislative sessions. When the Legislature is in session, House members and senators hire additional staff to handle the deluge of business that occurs from January to May every odd-numbered year.
I like the principle of a citizen Legislature. It gives at least the appearance that our elected lawmakers have an understanding, a kinship, with the people they represent. They are bound to return home and under the strictures of the laws they enact.
I am acutely aware, too, that often the chintzy salaries we pay our legislators might shut out actual working men and women from serving. It costs a lot of money to give up one’s day job to head to Austin for five months every other year. That means those elected to the House and Senate might be, oh, lawyers or physicians who have the financial means to serve in the Legislature.
What’s more, the lieutenant governor who presides over the Senate and the speaker who presides over the House also receive essentially the same salary as the legislators they manage in either legislative chamber. Plus, the lieutenant governor and House speaker essentially hold down full-time legislative jobs.
My version of reality tells me the state system of paying legislators a chump-change salary works well for the state.
As the saying goes, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Besides, even if it is broke, paying legislators more money isn’t likely to be sufficient to repair what needs fixing.
John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.
Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.