It has been somewhere between 180 and 200 days since the Wisconsin Legislature has met and taken any kind of action…and we are knee deep in a pandemic and sinking. So it is abundantly clear that Wisconsin doesn’t need a full time legislature. And since the institution of the biennial budget, the only heavy lifting actually occurs in odd numbered years.
So why do we have a full time legislature. I didn’t go back and research the history on the why and wherefore on how we got there, but I was surprised to find that Wisconsin is in the very small minority of states with full time legislatures…there are exactly 10 states with full time legislatures. Some aren’t that surprising as they are big population areas like New York State or California, but lightly populated states like Alaska and Hawaii are also among those ten.
So let’s go part time! I suggest that the legislature meet from January through June each year. They should be able to get their business done in that time. The current Republican majority state houses have already proven the concept. The only exceptions would be emergency situations and the governor could call the legislature back in session as he does today.
I propose that legislators be moved to half of their current salary, that their staff sizes be reduced, that pensions be replaced with 401(k)s, that health insurance be removed, and per diems be re-examined.
The savings to the state would be significant, particularly when considering pensions and costs to staff legislative offices. The article linked above, full time legislators pull down an average $82,358 per year, so Wisconsin’s $52,999 is already something of a bargain…but $26,500 would be even better. And the national average says that full time bodies have on average 1,250 staffers, while the overall national average is 684 and even lower for part time bodies. I don’t know how many staffers support our legislature in Wisconsin but I would bet it is closer to the 1,250 than the 684.
The only exceptions to this change would be the Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority roles…they may need to be full time to oversee their offices and work with the governor and the administration…but I might be wrong and maybe they should stay away for half the year as well.
Want small government? Here’s the change we need to make! Let’s be part of the 80% majority and go part time in Madison!
[snark alert] don’t think this is practical? seems to have worked for the Milwaukee County Board! [end of snark alert]