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What the Devil won't tell you

Don't like the City Council or Legislature? Give them a raise

De facto full-time jobs should mean full-time pay, benefits

The president of the Arizona State Senate says he doesn't know whom he agrees to talk to, but in an effort to shill his book winds up listening passively on a panel whose moderator says U.S. Sen. John McCain should be executed. The Legislature has hacked away at what help the state provides the most-screwed in the current economy. Lawmakers see their job as a three-month gig, because they are citizen lawmakers who aren't professional and keep their no-tax pledge by telling counties to do it.

Arizona's per capita income for a family of four ranks 46th in the country because, as lawmakers tell it, the poor don't work hard enough.

What conquistadors sought searching for the Seven Cities of Gold, columnists find with the Arizona State Legislature. The "you-gotta-be-kidding-me" gold to be found is almost too good to be true.

They are ideologues who seem not to base their decisions on anything other than what grandpa told them back when, and whatever talk radio told them to believe on any given morning.

The state ranks near the bottom in everything where we should aspire and toward the top in all the categories we should eschew.

So, when I read that the Legislature enjoys some great health care benefits, I had the first thought you did. "Asshats." But then the second thought, between the Walgreen's newspaper rack and the door, "Good." The folks responsible for Arizona being better for private prisons than public schools deserve better health care. They deserve retirement. They deserve a raise.

What. What? What?!

You've asked me three bloody times already. Yes. They do. They obsess on guns, can't manage a budget that is always in a state of crisis, and keep promising their tax cuts are going to paint Arizona streets with milk and honey. Yet, we remain lactose free and the bees buzz around asking, "Where'd all that sweet sticky stuff go?"

Give the lawmakers more money.

I will go you one better and argue that we should so the same for the Tucson City Council — and that it is one of the most pressing issues in Tucson and in the state.

Those who make up the Tucson City Council and Arizona State Legislature makes $24,000 a year. Legislators get another $7,200 in daily allowances if the members live outside of Maricopa County, and $3,000 for Maricopans. That is crazy considering the state's county supervisors get paid more than $70,000 a year, as required by state statute. Running Pima County is a full-time job but overseeing a city with its own charter isn't? For lawmakers, governing a state of 6 million and overseeing a $10 billion budget is — what? A hobby?

Besides, I'm not the one who keeps electing them. If you, dear voter, say to yourself, "I don't want to give 'them' a raise," then why are you giving "them" a job? Every two or four years, you have the ability to vote them out. You don't. Maybe it's party affiliation and you can't bring yourself to vote for a D/R, but then the problem isn't the Legislature or City Council, it's you.

If you are going to give them a job, then make it a full-time gig. To make it full-time gig, make sure they can make a living at it. If not, you are going to wind up with city and leaders who either don't have to work at all or are perfectly okay living in their car (van).

I've never been a fan of the idea that we have a citizen's corps of elected leaders. It makes them amateurs and empowers them to act accordingly. See my previous column. I don't like this idea of getting into the session with an eye to seeing how fast they can get out of it, especially when they are intent on approving a raft of laws the rest of us have to live by.

It's another reason why ballot initiatives are very often bad law. If I can get 50.1 percent of voters to approve some kid's spit-up, then lawyers will be forced to wonder "what does that carrot have to do with Article 5 of the state Constitution?" The laws are written in a room somewhere by a guy or woman who wants what they want. The initiatives and constitutional amendments don't get vetted for inconsistencies or workability. All backers have to do is win the big argument and they get everything they can stuff into law.

Crafting legislation should take time. Passing laws should be proceeded by hearings open to the public. It should involve study. That is hard enough to get out of Washington working year-round.

In Arizona, where lawmakers pat themselves on the back for finishing a year's worth of work in three months, and write laws at 4 in the morning to be signed into law by noon the next day, it's next to impossible. So they don't take the laws they pass as seriously as those of us who have to follow them.

You are mad at City Hall? Got you. Say you want to run. Say you want to do something about it. So you and your friends get together and game it out. You can raise X amount of money, get Y number of signatures and see the path to Z number of votes. You can do it. You can make a change. Now, take a pay cut to $24,000 per year.

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Well, because it's a part-time job, you can maybe keep yours. Right? True. That's true. So keep working at the insurance company or office supply store you manage, which provides the bulk of your income. Now, what if there's a conflict? What if you have to be somewhere to learn about the new line of office furniture or State Farm needs you in Omaha for a week. Then what? Where are your loyalties? Naturally, your loyalties are to your family and the people paying you.

So, maybe just bite the bullet, voters, and demand that we are not a sleepy little desert hamlet anymore but a city of more than 500,000 people who perhaps deserve more attention than whether or not Swingline has discontinued the new red stapler.

Instead, voters, you seem to say every two years, "No. I don't want to give them a raise." — but one way to get a better class of "them" is to pay people enough to take the job and treat it like a career for just as long as they get re-elected.

Sen. Bigelow Harrumphedink weighs in

The contrary argument — slightly mocked ... 

The argument behind it, other than the voters reactionary "hell no," goes something like this:

"We don't want public service to be a career. We want it to be an act of service," says Sen. Bigelow Harrumphedink (because I'm in no way trying to undercut the opposing view by giving my antagonist a silly name. Heavens, no.) "And service means you aren't in it for the money. Harrumph."

Right, but tying the policymaker's wage to the median income simply means they are no better off than the median household earners but aren't punished financially for seeking the job.

"But yer missing the point, son," Harrumphedink parries my thrust. "Service should be left to those who have achieved something and done something with their lives. Therefore they don't need the job."

This ties in nicely with the progressive argument: "Oh, I'm not in it for the money. I don't need a raise."

Well, then take a freaking walk, brother or sister, because just about everyone else in Arizona does need a raise. Every other business needs more customers and if you aren't going to help the poor, you at least owe them some avenue out of poverty other than a turn at the craps table praying for sevens. Maybe because policymakers don't feel the heat, they think everything is cool enough to act with an astonishing lack of urgency.

Harrumpherdink (and there is a reason he has a Southern accent) then raises his best argument: "Boy, you don't want the arbiters of democracy too vested in their job and unwilling to do what's best for the state, even if it costs them an election."

True. When was the last time that happened in Arizona?

Crickets. Exactly.

What should they get paid? Personally, I have no problem with $100,000 a year but I get that I'm ahead of the curve on this issue. I will submit the Luber Model, given to me brilliantly by former Tucson Citizen City Editor Diane Luber. Pay them the state median income, plus a per diem for the Legislature to allow lawmakers to rent a decent spot in Phoenix.

Pros v. Elks

On the question, the country takes two different tacks. On the one hand, you have 11 states that offer the professional lawmaker model. They are the usual suspects and pay more than $40,000 a year:: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin.

The rest of the country operates as if state government should be about as important as an Elks Club meeting. The difference being many of these states have very little interest in any sort of benevolent and protective order for their given state.

Arizona is a hybrid — and a weird one at that. The state's constitution was radically liberal for its time, crafted almost entirely by territorial progressives and one of their reforms was to establish a citizens' Legislature. Congress had established the territory and with it came, apparently, provisions enshrining Eastern corruption into law. So this ripping left-wing state turned flaming red within 70 years and began taking their cues from the other kind of semi-pro lawmaking — the gentleman/overseer legislatures of the American South.

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The South's rejection of large "unchecked/professional" and oppressive government dates back to Jefferson. Nineteenth century South Carolina Sen. John Calhoun better reflects the Southern fear of a rampant majority that their severely limited legislatures are realized in the perception of part-time amateurs.

Then we get reality, versus the virtuous ideal.

A look across the Gulf Coast gives America one of its great lineups of states to watch. We got the crazy drunk uncle who is a ton of fun when he's not batshit crazy — Texas. Next to him is the ex-con cousin laying low because no one can prove nothing — ah guarantee — named Louisiana. It's fine so long as he cooks and spins the music. And then are the short-bus riders of American political subdivisions, Alabama and Mississippi.

Texas lawmakers meet once every two years and average about $17,000 per year with daily expense allowances. Their economy has done well — because oil — so check back in a year. Also, those whacky government-hating Texans actually did have the foresight to regulate sub-prime loans, and that vastly limited the damage of the Great Recession under the Lone Star flag. Good work, Texas. Go buy yourself a gun and some tinfoil for your hat. We'll see you at the party come football season.

Louisiana. You have to love that state. See, Louisiana apparently doesn't do things that can't somehow invite the shady. They have term limits but they aren't life-time term limits, so Uncle Jean Cooter can run, serve his terms out, put up his no-account cousin for a term and then run again. When it comes to pay, Louisiana has a salary, a per diem and then expenses. Aren't per diems expenses? Yes. Why do they get two? Wouldn't want to put federal prosecutors out of work entirely, now. Would you, boy?

Alabama pays its lawmakers the least — $10 per day with a very short session and per diem associated with it; they make just more than $10,000 a year. Not only do they meet for a scant 30 days, they also have to oversee most counties in a state that does not allow "home rule." The one thing we can say about Alabama is, "thank God for Mississippi."

And Mississippi's $10,000 per year salary, when adjusted with even 50 days worth of daily allowances (they too have a short session), comes out to about $16,000 a year. It goes well with some of the worst economic figures in the country for — oh, the last 160 years. Hey, at least they don't have unions.

We may not want to Californicate like Taxachusetts, but can we all agree that Alabama and Mississippi should not be our governing guide stars?

Conservatives needn't worry about turning the state over to a bunch of namby-pambies eager to feed the poor and pay for K-12. Oklahoma and Arkansas pay more than $40,000 per year when daily allowances are provided but both of them meet just 60 days a year. So they get full-time pay for a part-time job but the left still thinks both of those lawmaking bodies are full of nutbars.

Of course, the legislators do work when they are not in session. That only proves my point. It's a full-time gig. Pay it accordingly.

The City Council's story runs almost point-for-point parallel to the state with two exceptions — size and time. Tucson's city government was established when Tucson didn't need full-time council members any more than Bisbee does. Those days are gone. The Council doesn't break in April and cease meetings until January. So the job is year-round and given the population, it's also full-time.

I would have one additional caveat for my proposal that is going absolutely nowhere. Hold all state and local elections during odd-numbered years. Voters don't get to spend enough time sorting through state issues during even-year elections as they flee the unending barrage of hate-ads airing during races for Congress, the U.S. Senate and the White House. Gubernatorial races in Arizona have to fight for public attention.

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We can run for cover from the heavy artillery of federal elections during Olympic years and then the next year pay attention to state and local races. Voters are much less likely to switch party lines further down ballots when they aren't as familiar with the players. Yeah, its more election crap to deal with, but it's also called democracy. Sack up and deal with it voters.

We have a lot to worry about in choosing a future for ourselves and the consequences of policies. Democracy ain't easy. We should start by agreeing that executing the democratically agreed-upon call is a full-time job that pays well and has good benefits. It's been said, we shouldn't elect people who need a job. Is a citizen legislature better representative of the citizenry if the lawmakers don't?

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications.


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