Keep Full-Time Legislatures

There is a discussion going on in our newsroom about a phrase you’ve been hearing on newscasts all around the country—“tough economic times.” We are sick of it. We’re tired of hearing it, thinking about it and living it every day. But, like much of America, it’s our reality.

For state legislators, this phrase should serve as a guiding principle. Nearly every hour of every day should be devoted to helping the state weather this financial storm. We need everyone we can to figure out how to get through the mess. In other words, all hands on deck.

It is certainly not the time to cut hours for the people elected and charged with helping the rest of us. If you’re trying to solve a budget deficit in the billions, any savings to be gathered by cutting the hours of lawmakers won’t make a dent in the hole. Instead, it would be a largely symbolic gesture. At this time, the state would be better served by showing the voters that everything possible is being done right now.

A part-time legislative body also raises recruitment concerns. Lawmakers in some smaller states make as little as $15,000 per year for part-time work. It’s not intended to be enough to live on. Undoubtedly, many of those lawmakers have other regular full-time jobs.

Are they spending more time listening to constituents?

Are they developing better public policy?

They’re distracted and I would say it shows. We need more “A” students in the legislature right now—genuine public policymakers with the best interest of Wisconsin at heart.

For decades, this state has been seen as a true think-tank, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, when Wisconsin developed bold ideas that became models for the rest of America. We need to find our way back, but pulling back now won’t allow for that kind of work.

Whether it was welfare reform, school choice or health care reform, not everyone agreed with the results but at least we were being innovative and forward thinking.

Leading Wisconsin should be a big job. It should be all-encompassing. It’s too important to be anything less.

Colin Benedict is WISC-TV’s news director. He’s lived in the Madison area since 1995. E-mail him at cbenedict@wisctv.com.

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