The forbidden topic lurking behind the ethics reform debate

However reluctantly, the Legislature has begun a sensitive debate over the freebies that lawmakers accept from those pushing the bills they pass judgment upon.

At the risk of being accused of goal post-moving, allow me to point out that everyone involved – lawmakers, the press, tea partyers, and do-gooders of all stripes – has shied away from the fundamental situation that makes any conversation about ethics reform so difficult.

The topic is so politically volatile that no lawmaker, Republican or Democrat, is allowed to mention the subject – unless it is to douse it with cold water. But here it is in a nutshell: We need to start paying a decent salary to these 236 lawmakers sent to Atlanta each year.

The idea was considered and ultimately discarded by the alliance of conservatives, liberals and civic-minded pushing this year’s $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers.

“They don’t think that anybody is going to buy into it this year,” said Kay Godwin, a Republican activist from south Georgia. “It’s not the right time, but it’s the right thing to do. We’ve mentioned to everybody that this is the direction that we want to go in. The legislators all agree with us. And the tea party.”

State lawmakers earn $17,342 a year. Ten states pay less, according to one national overview. A $173 per diem – only four states have higher daily expense coverage – augments their pay to $24,000 or so. If you get what you pay for, then Georgians should have no reason to complain. They’ve been paying for an army of fry cooks and dishwashers.

Yes, the state constitution obliges members of the House and Senate to work only 40 days each year. But in reality, sessions stretch across four months and more. Employers willing to cut loose a worker for that kind of time are few and far between.

There are two arguments against paying state lawmakers on the cheap. Godwin prefers this one: “It really limits the people who can run for office,” she said. A Legislature heavy with retirees, the wealthy and the willing poor doesn’t accurately reflect the public that sends them there, she argues.

The less savory argument is that an adequately reimbursed lawmaker would be less likely to feel entitled to the free meals, booze, and tickets to concerts and football games that are now on the table. Lawmakers get irked if you infer that these things constitute corruption. So let us refer to them as privatized salary supplements.

Such things matter. Consider the case of former state Rep. Ralph Long, D-Atlanta. He was lumped into the same House district with another Democrat, and lost a primary fight last July. But the Atlanta City Council just bumped up the salary for future members to $60,300. He’s given thought to running for a seat.

“I don’t want [public service] to be a jobs program, but in actuality, legislators have to be able to live,” Long said. If he should run and win, Long’s demotion and a walk across the street would earn him a 248 percent bump in salary. With more money for staff, too.

Any increase in the salaries of state lawmakers would no doubt have to be accompanied by changes in the way they are currently reimbursed. That $173 for daily expenses would have to be curtailed, for instance.

“I’ve been told by senators who wouldn’t want to be identified that, more so than campaign contributions and the lobbyists’ gifts, the opportunity to collect per diem is more valuable in terms of chairmanships and moving up the ladder,” said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia. “That’s cash money.”

The problem is that lawmakers themselves are loathe to raise the pay issue. “I’m not going to vote for an increase in legislative pay when I have school teachers in every district that I represent who are being furloughed,” said state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, the Capitol’s most aggressive proponent of a $100 cap on gifts for lawmakers.

No, livable wages for state lawmakers would have to be an issue taken up by a fellow with plenty of clout and little to lose. A governor in his second term, for instance.

But ultimately, it must be addressed.

Republicans on the stump are quick to say that government needs to be run more like a business.

But let’s say that Acme Grinders has sent its top sales person to Atlanta on an extended campaign, only to find that the competition has wined and dined and flattered him with a host of privatized salary supplements. Bosses at Acme Grinders would call this a firing offense.

We call it something else at the Capitol: Normal.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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73 comments Add your comment

Woofy One

January 16th, 2013
6:31 pm

The pay is pitiful but a public that doesn’t trust them will scream. Transparency will buy them mileage on the issue. Quit calling taxes levys and shifting them to other agencies. Call it what it is and stop the half truths unless you want half a salary.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

January 16th, 2013
6:47 pm

It’s for 40 days worth of “work.”

Victoria Andersen

January 16th, 2013
7:08 pm

Good article, Jim. “Normal” is right on point.

Kris

January 16th, 2013
7:26 pm

“”"State lawmakers earn $17,342 a year. Ten states pay less, according to one national overview. A $173 per diem – only four states have higher daily expense coverage.”"”

That’s 17k more than there worth….Or $17.50 a day and cut the number of days to 10 or less.

Day 3.all they have done is Shift the bed TAX to another agency that in truth can raise that tax that is no longer a tax (you crooks a TAX IS A TAX.).

Blanks stadium ($$$$) is pretty muck a shady done deal

Lets call the new dirty done deal the “”“taxation without representation”” blank stadium.

Dropped Bloody Marys, stogies dropped from Senate lunch menu. Yet they pass laws against smoking.

Mentioned Gun laws and Ethics). I’ll be a believer in these guns-everywhere krap when they allow armed people in the capital and on the floor of the legislature.

Half of them cannot spell ethics.

RECALL the Thieves

Not sure if this fact…Some pharmacy’s near the gold dome are reporting a shortage of Viagra.
Also some of the Ladies of the evening are complaining that getting paid in Birth control pills is not right,

That’s cash only!

Not sure if this fact…Some pharmacy’s near the gold dome are reporting a shortage of Viagra.
Just saying.

Kris

January 16th, 2013
7:26 pm

“”"State lawmakers earn $17,342 a year. Ten states pay less, according to one national overview. A $173 per diem – only four states have higher daily expense coverage.”"”

That’s 17k more than there worth….Or $17.50 a day and cut the number of days to 10 or less.

Day 3 .all they have done is Shift the bed TAX to another agency that in truth can raise that tax that is no longer a tax (you crooks a TAX IS A TAX.).

Blanks stadium ($$$$) is pretty muck a shady done deal

Lets call the new dirty done deal the “”“taxation without representation”” blank stadium.

Dropped Bloody Marys, stogies dropped from Senate lunch menu. Yet they pass laws against smoking.

Mentioned Gun laws and Ethics). I’ll be a believer in these guns-everywhere krap when they allow armed people in the capital and on the floor of the legislature.

Half of them cannot spell ethics.

RECALL the Thieves

Not sure if this fact…Some pharmacy’s near the gold dome are reporting a shortage of Viagra.
Also some of the Ladies of the evening are complaining that getting paid in Birth control pills is not right,

That’s cash only!

Kris

January 16th, 2013
7:26 pm

“”"State lawmakers earn $17,342 a year. Ten states pay less, according to one national overview. A $173 per diem – only four states have higher daily expense coverage.”"”

That’s 17k more than there worth….Or $17.50 a day and cut the number of days to 10 or less.

Day 3 .all they have done is Shift the bed TAX to another agency that in truth can raise that tax that is no longer a tax (you crooks a TAX IS A TAX.).

Blanks stadium ($$$$) is pretty muck a shady done deal

Lets call the new dirty done deal the “”“taxation without representation”” blank stadium.

Dropped Bloody Marys, stogies dropped from Senate lunch menu. Yet they pass laws against smoking.

Mentioned Gun laws and Ethics). I’ll be a believer in these guns-everywhere krap when they allow armed people in the capital and on the floor of the legislature.

Half of them cannot spell ethics.

RECALL the Thieves

Not sure if this fact…Some pharmacy’s near the gold dome are reporting a shortage of Viagra.
Also some of the Ladies of the evening are complaining that getting paid in Birth control pills is not right,

That’s cash only!

Remember 2014 will be here soon!

Shine

January 16th, 2013
7:40 pm

If minimum wage is “too high” for workers then let the kooks in the legislature keep making that and do away with all their freebies. Walk a mile in a common man’s shoes before denying the federal medicaid expansion for citizens for instance. Let’em starve like we having to while they give deadbeat corps this and that.

Where are tea party comments

January 16th, 2013
7:45 pm

NDR=No Damn Raise. No they don’t deserve a raise. They work let’s say 70 days a year. If 40 is required they don’t work 150. 17k for 70 days is good. They knew what the pay was when they ran and we are not going to get better work and more productivity out of any of them. I am pissed with the Atlanta City Council for voting themselves a raise and hope a number get voted out!
Signed a Got Damn Democrat for NDR!!!

joe

January 16th, 2013
7:47 pm

These are the same guys who insist we can’t afford healthcare, right?

FedUp

January 16th, 2013
7:52 pm

No state employee should get a raise until teachers get one. Teachers have not had a raise in 5 yrs!!!!

Tired

January 16th, 2013
7:56 pm

FedUp, social workers and prison guards and park rangers and so on haven’t had a raise, either.

Regardless, the article pre-supposes that legislators are accepting gifts out of need, not greed. I don’t think that’s a safe assumption. There’s corruption and excessive gift-taking at all income levels of government.

Jim,is this a joke????

January 16th, 2013
7:56 pm

They chose to run for political office and they knew the pay before they ran.They counted on lobbyist and networking for their future gains in and out of politics.Want to really put a damper to their party;why not TERM LIMITS on all legislators in Georgia.Let’s say 8 years total regardless if the terms were in the House or Senate.I’m really tired of all the B.S. that is coming from our Capital.We have a bunch of losers and thieves in the Gold Dome.

Geek

January 16th, 2013
8:05 pm

State employees haven’t gotten a pay raise in years (some teachers and some firefighters did) Legislators and public office holders shouldn’t get a raise until all of the state employees have one. They raise the health care costs over 100% since they provided them a raise.

Chuck

January 16th, 2013
8:16 pm

Why don’t they meet just every two years like Texas. If you paid them nothing, the same people would still be trying to get re-elected for their 15 minutes of fame and their puerile perception of their power. They need to do a manhood check.

Don Coyote

January 16th, 2013
8:26 pm

Why has Balfour built a million dollar campaign fund for a $17k a year job? Especially since he doesn’t have to campaign and apparently could even pass the dead girl/live boy test.

WillinRoswell

January 16th, 2013
8:29 pm

I have been hearing about ethics reform for years and years. Why should we expect anything different this year? Generally, lawmakers as a group have this entitlement mentality. Their hands are perpetually extended for some sort of goodie. At least they have some sort of mentality.

Russell Pass

January 16th, 2013
8:30 pm

To give these clowns a pay raise would be the ultimate in stupidity. They only work 40 days. Some people do not make $17,000 a year and they actually work for their money.

Joke

January 16th, 2013
8:31 pm

Are you kidding? State employees, including most teachers have not had a raise in almost 5 years (except certain overpaid managers at GSFIC).

Typical

January 16th, 2013
8:32 pm

Really? A raise? What would they like to tell the thousands who serve the state, state schools, universities, police, fire, etc, etc that have seen no raises and ever increasing fees, reduced healthcare etc since 2008 not to mention the citizens of this state that are still reeling under their failed polices while Deal and his cronies hand out sweetheart funding for well digging near Lake Lanier and stadiums for the down and out NFL on the taxpayer’s dime. This is a joke right? Am I reading the Onion?

Don Abernethy

January 16th, 2013
8:33 pm

You are suppose to do something to get a raise. We might be better off if we sent everyone of them home and let a few volunteers take over. Don’t we have enough laws??????

Don Coyote

January 16th, 2013
8:33 pm

Don’t get me wrong I’m fine with paying them decent compensation over the table but only if they are willing to cease using the “campaign war chests” as slush funds for hideaway condos and the like. The “gift” limit from lobbyists should be 0, zero, zilch, nada… The “campaign contribution” limit should be $100 per family. NO corporate contributions allowed.

Mrs. Slocombe

January 16th, 2013
8:35 pm

If they can’t afford to serve at the salary they’re receiving now (which is very generous for the amount of work they do), they should not run for office. And I am unanimous in that!

Keis

January 16th, 2013
8:36 pm

As far as the bed TAX goes….Just change the words Federal and local level to Shift and Shaft:

“State and Agency…Then you super-size this shady DEAL.

Shift and shaft deal….

“”"Shift and Shaft: The phenomenon of lowering or cutting taxes at the Federal level while shifting the tax burden to the local level. This process can rightly be added to the list of Things that helped get us where we are today.”"”

Ethical Question for Graves, where can I get a loan for 1.2 million. You know the kind you do not have to pay back?

Years ago many politicians served for a dollar a year. Don’t have men like that today

Just sayin.

KIM

January 16th, 2013
8:46 pm

At this time, with the current pay and per diem, there is no way to attract people unless they are retired, independently wealthy or own their.own lucretive business. That cuts out the potential for real broad perspective. A huge part of the citizenry cannot possibly consider serving us. Quite frankly I cannot imagine how the people of south Georgia have enough $ to live up here even with that per diem. And consider what it costs to be dressed appropriately and accessible to the public. How are staff paid?

KIM

January 16th, 2013
8:51 pm

Anyone who thinks they only work 40 days lives in lala land. Just like those who think teachers work ten months and get a two month vacation.

justlogical

January 16th, 2013
8:57 pm

I would be more than happy to work 40 days a year for 17,000. That’s more than I have made the last 4 years being unemployed

clem

January 16th, 2013
9:00 pm

but do many benefit from being legislators back home with better business opportunities or traffic? be interesting to see net worth increases. maybe higher pay but term limits.

TonyFlack

January 16th, 2013
9:10 pm

While I agree that $17k is not a lot of money, somehow, the majority of the legislature makes it work. Most of them are not “retired, rich or working poor” as the lady in the article states. Most of these folks are upper class lawyers who somehow find a reason and a way to keep running for office. Obviously something is attracting them to the position. If it is not the $17k (which i highly doubt it is the attraction, even with the per diem), then it is all the ancillary benefits that they receive both during and after their tenure.

And as for the posters that say teachers should get a raise first, you are exactly dead on. They work 190 days a year, most for only double what these guys get for 40 days of their “work.” When I say “double” i am including the per diem. The poster that said they have not had a raise in 5 years is exactly correct. Before we take care of the politicians paychecks, lets give the teachers at least something nominal, to offset 5 years of nothing. If we can’t afford to do that, fine, but lets let the politicians stay at their current salary as well. Leadership starts at the top.

JWSt

January 16th, 2013
9:10 pm

You have got to be kidding me. A raise? I haven’t had one since 2007. There is always an excuse why we can’t get a raise. The city of ATL and state of Georgia is in dire straits. For lawmakers, it was supposed to be about serving with dignity and honor, not making a living off the taxpayers like the ones who go to Washington do. You say lawmakers here “earn” $17,342 per year. No, they don’t earn that. They are “paid” that, let’s be clear there is a distinction between earning and being paid an amount. Until these people can prove they can “earn” what they’re being paid now, then perhaps they should go on commission. More jobs created, they get paid. Balance the budget, they get paid. Quash silliness like allowing tax dollars to pay for posh stadiums for millions,they get paid. In other words, be financially responsible for those who you are serving. Live within the state’s means, like the people you serve. Then, and only then, should a raise be considered.

Good Grief

January 16th, 2013
9:12 pm

If the sessions stretch out over 4 months, it’s their own fault!

Crooked much?

January 16th, 2013
9:15 pm

24k per year is 12 per hour for a 40 hr, 52 week year. Which many many folks would need a raise to get to. If they work 3 mo, it’s equal to 96k per year. If 4 months, it’s still over 70k per year so I don’t get how they are low paid? That’s well above median wages. Not to mention the gifts have to stop completely..wish some would take a stand and wish we could get better reporting.

Susan

January 16th, 2013
9:16 pm

I haven’t had a raise as a teacher in six years. Not even a step increase and I’m a GOOD veteran teacher. My taxes and costs of teaching are rising. I disagree. If I have to sacrifice, so should the legislators until things start looking up in the state. Even with the cap on gifts, I would be willing to bet that legislators benefit just fine.

HENRY

January 16th, 2013
9:24 pm

YOU SHOULD EARN A RAISE BEFORE YOU GET ONE……THESE FOOLS HAVEN’T EARNED ANYTHING EXCEPT MAYBE A KICK IN THE ASS……………

td

January 16th, 2013
9:26 pm

FedUp

January 16th, 2013
7:52 pm

No state employee should get a raise until teachers get one. Teachers have not had a raise in 5 yrs!!!!

Not true. Teachers get longevity raises systematically according to their years service. If I am not mistaken it is equivalent to 5%. Almost all teachers have received at least one of these raises within the past 5 years. All other state employees do not get such raises so they have not received a raise.

Dr. R

January 16th, 2013
9:31 pm

But Jim’s point is that if we paid a decent salary, we might GET better leaders who do the job we send them for. All these posts decry the lack of character, quality and results from our legislators, which we agree on. But do you think we’re going to get BETTER leaders at that price? If you hire someone and they suck, do you think you’ll get someone better at the same salary? True, most of these guys are actually wealthy and connected enough so the pay might not be an issue to them. But raise the salary and you might get a whole new class of professional, educated, capable leaders. Or not, I dunno. Considering what we have now, it’s worth a shot.

An observer

January 16th, 2013
9:46 pm

I fail to see how paying lawmakers more money will improve anything.

Keis

January 16th, 2013
9:49 pm

Shine “If minimum wage is “too high” for workers then let the kooks in the legislature keep making that and do away with all their freebies. Walk a mile in a common man’s shoes before denying the federal medicaid expansion for citizens for instance. Let’em starve like we having to while they give deadbeat corps this and that.”"

Amen….then they put a TAX on hospital beds..and Try to pay Ladies of the evening with Birth control pills.

TERM LIMITS …Yes

Deal gone 2014….Yes

Baby

January 16th, 2013
9:54 pm

Look at Dekalb Co. and the school board. Most of them lifers and corrupt no matter that they are paid well. Maybe they can forgo their health insurance and see how they like it.

roswelldickie

January 16th, 2013
9:57 pm

no raise. they knew the pay when they ran, when they got elected and when they got there. any increase in pay, which would be self serving, should be a ballot issue for the voters.

displaced

January 16th, 2013
10:02 pm

They get this pay for life whether they serve or not?

Redcoat Mom

January 16th, 2013
10:06 pm

@td Not true. Teachers get longevity raises systematically according to their years service. If I am not mistaken it is equivalent to 5%. Almost all teachers have received at least one of these raises within the past 5 years. All other state employees do not get such raises so they have not received a raise.

Not sure where you got this info but I teach in Gwinnett Co. and we have had no raise or step in 5 years.

Mikey D.

January 16th, 2013
10:19 pm

@td
I’m a teacher, and I’ll make less this year than I made 8 years ago. My insurance premiums have more than tripled in that time as well.

KLT

January 16th, 2013
10:26 pm

Looking at photo’s of the wild HOG supper these FAT Jawed “politicians (loosely used term).” Looks like there eating well.. When They raise the minimum wage., Give all state employees and School teachers A raise…Then let the Citizens VOTE on What their pay will be as well as TERM limits. Let the tax payers vote on ethics reform.

Years ago many politicians served for a dollar a year. Don’t have men like that today

hiram

January 16th, 2013
10:55 pm

Most of the people who watch sports events don’t wager money on the outcome, and view it as nothing more than entertainment. People who do bet money, and aren’t fools, will put some effort into studying the opponents, and those who want to win, study a lot.
Yet, even though they are wagering money on every politician they vote for, most of the voters in this state, treat elections like pure entertainment. They seem to miss the connection between who they elect, and how much they pay for electricity, or how long they sit in traffic, or whether or not they will lose their home if they get sick.
As a result of that lack of effort, there’s no demand for oversight, and the politicians end up on the honor system, which begets you politicians who will toss away buckets full of your money, for a pair of Falcon tickets.
Galloway may be onto something. If you actually paid politicans, maybe you could demand that they be held accountable for their actions, and they couldn’t pay $35,000,000 of your money to upgrade a pair of airline tickets.

Predatory Lender

January 16th, 2013
11:17 pm

Pay raise? You are kidding, right? Give these guys a boot. Biggest bunch of freeloaders. Most of them are broke attorneys or out of work former execs who mooch off the taxpayer. Jim, you must be kidding? You writing to support this move? Then you need a new job.

Predatory Lender

January 16th, 2013
11:19 pm

$ 17,000 for a part time job, getting their egos boosted very day. Term limits? Yes!

[...] by Bridget Cantrell · 0 comments TweetI was going to put this in tomorrow’s morning reads, but it’s a topic worthy of its own post.  Jim Galloway discusses the forbidden topic lurking behind the ethics reform debate. [...]

honested

January 16th, 2013
11:33 pm

If we are going to pay them more, it might be a good time to do away with the way outdated ‘40 Day Rule’.

Look before I leap...

January 16th, 2013
11:34 pm

OK. Get real ethics reform passed, get our education system out of the sewer, get the state unemployment rate under 6% and THEN we’ll see about raising the salary for state lawmakers.

In other words, mimic the private sector and accomplish something before asking for a raise.
If I were to approach my boss and say, “Hey, I’ll work harder and steal less if you give me more money up front.” He’d fire me on the spot.

Look before I leap...

January 16th, 2013
11:40 pm

$24,000 for 40 days work is equivalent to $144,000 annualized.
How many of these guys are asking for 2 months off at their local WalMart so they can play legislator?