Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Del Hogan's Retirement Raises Questions About Salaries for General Assembly Members

According to the Gazette Virginian, Delegate Clarke Hogan will not be running for reelection this year. Although there has been some discussion as to the real reason for his retirement, Hogan claims that he is leaving office because he needs to focus more on his personal business and told the Gazette Virginian that being a member of the General Assembly is like "balancing two full-time jobs."

I have heard other members of the General Assembly make similar statements because even though being a member of the legislator is technically a part time job, it does take up a significant amount of time. The fact that legislators are required to be in Richmond for session -- and sometimes special sessions and other commitments they have -- can create a unique situation for someone who is also trying to hold down a full time job so that they can support their family. Furthermore, the fact that legislators earn under $20,000 a year for their official duties also means that they most likely cannot afford to have this income be their only source of revenue.

This raises the question of whether members of the General Assembly should be paid more so they can afford to focus full time on their duties as an elected official. If they could spend more time in session or at their district offices, there is the potential for increasing the opportunities for constituents to meet with their representatives and for officials to truly pass meaningful legislation instead of trying to get everything done in the few weeks that the GA's currently in session.

While the vast majority of General Assembly members are honest public servants, having them be full time legislators and paying them accordingly would also help to ensure that their official duties are separate from their own personal business ventures. As it stands now, for instance, there was a fair amount of discussion about how Del. Dave Albo was a key figure in passing legislation that introduced extreme costs for traffic violations -- something people believed he potentially stood to benefit from since he's a name partner at a law firm that deals with traffic law. Then there's also the fact that lobbyists know legislators don't get paid much and use that to their advantage by paying for expensive meals in order to get some face time and potential influence.

Now I don't see action on this issue taken anytime soon, especially during this economic crisis, because even though it might be something that's needed to increase the productivity of our General Assembly, members of the legislator wouldn't want to cast a vote that would significantly raise their own salary due to potential backlash during the next election. I've also heard some legislators talk about how they wouldn't want to increase their own salary until there are laws on the books that ensuring Virginia's workers a living wage. In other words Hogan's reasoning for retirement brings up a primarily academic question at the moment; Should members of our General Assembly be paid enough to make holding office their full time job?

1 comment:

  1. I wrote about this a couple of years ago. I think we are beyond the point where we need to have a full-time legislature and the corresponding full-time salaries.