Asking the Impossible: Governor Seeks Sacrifice by Politicos

Governor
Schwarzenegger had the nerve to suggest that legislators take a pay
cut as a symbolic gesture and to save the state some money. As he
put it in his State of the State address on January 15, “if you
call a taxi and the taxi doesn’t show up, you don’t have to pay the
driver.”

In other words, the
citizens of California should not have to pay our legislators for
failing to do their job.

So how much cab fare
are we talking about? Members of the Legislature receive from
$116,000 to nearly $134,000 in annual salary, plus generous expense
allowances and excellent benefits according to public records. The
governor’s salary is more than $210,000, but
Schwarzenegger takes neither salary nor expenses, which is laudable,
but not surprising given his wealth and money-making ability once his
term ends.

But our legislators
have not embraced the governor’s suggestion that they take a
pay cut in light of the poor job they have done. In fact, that story
has died in the media – hence no further coverage of the
Governator’s challenge to the legislative branch and the
response of these public servants.

And why would anyone
consider the issue relevant? We Californians constantly reduce the
workload of our legislators, even as we raise their pay. As I noted
in an earlier CAIVP commentary, our citizens already make many of the
tough legislative decisions through our overwrought voter initiative
process, which frequently puts out of the reach of politicians major
funding issues such as education.

The whole idea of
citizen-legislators – part-time and paid enough to cover
expenses – has morphed into a full-time political class. Even
term limits have not succeeded at sucking the security out of
politics – it has instead allowed politician to move upward and
onward to higher, or just different, political positions. Political
office has become the ultimate government job. The success rate for
incumbents ranges from around 80 percent throughout California and
the nation, and the ability of incumbents to gerrymander their
districts into permanent safe houses has magnified this problem.

And don’t get
me started on the unethical electioneering practices that have made
the marketing of candidates far more misleading than the marketing of
laundry detergent. At least with products, there are watchdog
agencies and powerful consumer groups with their eye on the problem.
With politicians, we have good ol’ boys appointed by
politicians keeping a close watch on their friends who also happen to
be politicians.

So it really isn’t
surprising that our California legislators aren’t jumping for
joy at the thought of reducing their “raid the larder”
approach to governing. This is, after all, their job – the way
they make a living and feed their families. They are no different
than teachers, factory workers or CalTrans employees. It’s
just a job.

And isn’t that
exactly the problem with turning politicians into a political class?
Maybe we need more than just a salary reduction – maybe we need
to redefine the role of lawmakers and return to the idea of
citizen-politicians with other jobs to go back to. Then the work
would have to get done more quickly, and accountability would be more
closely monitored by fellow-citizens. So, governor, maybe you just
didn’t ask for enough.