Can States Afford a Part-Time Legislature?

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21 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Interesting post.

    Do you know if any states have full-time legislatures? I imagine that NY and CA do but this is just is just a thought in my head.

    My guess is that there is a romantic attachment to the part-time legislature and that going full-time would be too professional and mean you need to come up with the money for full-time salaries.Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic says:

      National Conference of State Legislatures has a good breakdown, NY, CA, PA

      It really is a full time job and ought to be treated as such across the country. Even setting the lawmaking and budget decisions bits aside, oversight of an executive branch is an important responsibility that requires legislator (and staff) time and attention.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I agree but I think attitudes like @damon’s are going to make it very hard. There is still substantial part of the country that wants government to be as unrealistically non-existent as possible. So the idea of more full-time legislatures is a categorical wrong.

        Though I admit my bias makes me see why NY and CA need full time legislatures but Vermont might not.Report

        • Avatar Damon says:


          Note there is a difference between my ideal amount of gov’t and the amount I’m willing to tolerate, which is much, much more than my ideal amount. But we can’t even call a hiatus on the amount, it’s always increasing. I see no reason why I should support making my legislature full time and have to pay them full time, because they’ll argue that they’ll loose money at the current salary if working full time and can’t have their own business, just so they can increase my taxes and make my life more burdensome for 12 full months vs the current 4 or so.Report

          • Avatar Creon Critic says:

            I can see your concern (though I disagree with it). I think the prescription is misdirected. The lobbyists are certainly full time. That is to say, making legislators part time reduces their capacity to develop the expertise they need to perform their duties.

            I’d add that those whose top concern is smaller government could very well benefit from more full time legislators seeking to make their careers on identifying and curbing government waste, fraud, and abuse for instance. I see the whole, part time legislator thing as being penny wise and pound foolish. The budgets a legislature controls, even in Vermont $4 billion plus, and the general reach of the programs, departments, agencies of even a small state’s government, means (to me) it is worthwhile to invest in legislators having the capacity to oversee all that money and all those employees. I’m sure that I don’t have to convince you that a lot can go wrong inside a government department – especially absent sufficient oversight. While I like ombuds offices, public advocates, inspector generals and such, legislators have tools they can bring to oversight that make the executive take notice. My two cents anyway.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


              That’s not a bad idea, but there would need to be some kind of directive or other incentive causing legislators to behave that way. As it stands, they get rewarded for spending money and cuts usually result in bad press, even if they are good, legitimate actions to reduce waste & improve efficiency.Report

            • Avatar InMD says:

              I agree with @oscar-gordon. It’s a nice thought but I don’t see how making legislators full time does anything to change the incentives that lead to lousy oversight of the executive branch and lack of expertise. I won’t say that legislators have no incentive to oversee executive agencies or fix problematic policies but that incentive is complicated by political calculations and various partisan and other loyalties. A full time legislator will be as beholden to those things as a part time legislator. Further you can probably never explain an issue to someone who has a strong interest in not understanding that issue.

              Think arguing sentencing reform to a person representing a district where the main employer is a prison, or the problems with fossil fuels to someone representing a district full of coal mines.Report

          • Avatar NoPublic says:

            Damon But we can’t even call a hiatus on the amount, it’s always increasing.

            Except of course, that it’s not. As a percentage of GDP it’s been higher several times in our history, and per capita even more so. By # of government employees it’s been shrinking a lot of late.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

              Except of course, that it’s not. As a percentage of GDP it’s been higher several times in our history, and per capita even more so.

              Huh? Real per-capita government spending is pretty much monotonically increasing. Federal spending leveled off from 1985-2000, but state spending continued to grow during that time.Report

            • Avatar Damon says:

              Yeah, that “percentage of gdp” is what I get every year in salary so of course I don’t care…Report

  2. Avatar Kim says:

    Pa has a full time legislature too.Report

  3. Avatar Damon says:

    MD has only a part time legislature and I see no reason why they should convert to full time. Just more time to muck about with more taxes, more nanny state-ing, and tell me I can’t eat or drink certain things or own certain items. But then MD isn’t some backward anti progressive state like Kentucky and is reliable progressive/liberal and sensible isn’t it?Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Part of the reason why so few states have full time legislatures and why New Hampshire tries to get buy with a large and unpaid legislature is that it fits well into certain myths that many Americans hold dear about the nature and composition of government. The idea of a professional politician who studies his or her craft with the care of another profession is anathema to a lot of Americans.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      Yeah this is what I was alluding to. Lots of people including left-leaning people still have romantic visions of the citizen legislature/politician who takes time out of their careers to attend to the nation’s affairs and then retires. We would hate places like the Ecole Superiors in France which focus on breeding politicians and civil administrators.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Which is dumb because elected politicians do not raise in the hierarchy of offices without going through the ranks. Even when this happens fast like in the case of our current President, you still need to start local and go onto the national level. If most politicians were of the citizen legislature/politician type than we wouldn’t have anybody qualified for state level executive office, the Presidency or Congress because they didn’t do their time in lower level offices. Most of us probably do not want a President from nowhere running every time or even a governor of a low population, low key state like Delaware or Wyoming coming into office with no experience.

        Americans have a love-hate relationship with civil servants. Public service is usually seen as dumping ground for people not good enough for a private sector job. Some civil service jobs have more of mystic and positive appeal though like the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, or the State Department. On a state level, prosecutors, police, and firemen also possess sex and mass appeal based on media portrayals. The idea that civil servants should be an elite cadre that gets special training and special schools would bristle many Americans the wrong way though.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      On the flip side, if they don’t have enough to do, then they’ll find stuff to do, idle hands & devils & all that.

      Perhaps we need more of a National Guard model of state legislator, Where it isn’t full time, but it does meet monthly for a few days with maybe one or two longer sessions during the year. I can also see the value of each member having a small, full time staff they direct to handle all the behind the scenes stuff.Report

  5. Avatar nevermoor says:

    Of course, in CA we have a full time legislature but also term limits that prevent anyone doing that full-time job from investing in it as a career. Which is stupid.Report

  6. Avatar DavidTC says:

    No marriage shall be solemnized without a license therefor. The license shall be issued by the clerk of the county in which the female resides at the time, unless the female is eighteen (18) years of age or over or a widow, and the license is issued on her application in person or by writing signed by her, in which case it may be issued by any county clerk.

    …what a weird law. It doesn’t say *what* female it’s talking about.

    I mean, the ‘over-18 or widow’ part says that such a female has to be one of the applicants, but it doesn’t say that about females *under* 18, who are just ‘the female’, not ‘the female applicant’.

    Gay men getting married should probably just bring a female under 18 who lives in that county along for the time being, so she can be ‘the female’ under the law. 😉

    Just kidding, but, seriously, I’m always amazed at how much completely dumbass wording there is in laws.Report

  7. Avatar Lyle says:

    Note that even in a part time legislature most of the session is spent doing nothing in Tx it seems that work is done only near deadlines such as must pass by dates set by the rules. All a full time legislature seems to do is to to allow more taxpayer paid wasted time. The first month or so seems to be spent in organizing itself, which could be done by a session to elect the speaker and then a recess once the committees are set for a month or so.
    It seems that in legislatures and in other areas work is only done by force of deadlines. (See labor negotiations etc) In addition there is the old saw that no ones liberty is safe when the legislature is in session.Report