The Patrician Legislature

Representative Tom Emmer, running for governor, has a lot of ideas about “redesigning government”. One of those ideas, apparently, is ending benefits for legislators. Emmer thinks that legislators and other elected officials should not get health insurance, pension contributions, or per diem payments. If Emmer wants a legislature that does not reflect Minnesota, then this is a great idea.

The legislature is nominally a part-time body, but in reality, it’s a full-time job. A full-time job that doesn’t happen to pay particularly well: the yearly salary for legislators is $31,140, an amount that has not increased in more than a decade. This is a low sum considering that it is impossible to hold down a full-time job for the six months of the year when the legislature is in session. Benefits like per diem payments and health insurance can help raise compensation amounts.

Given the time constraints, people who run for the legislature tend to have flexible jobs like consulting, jobs like teaching where it is possible to take a semester off and not teach, or no jobs at all. Another popular job is lawyer, something that Emmer, a lawyer himself, is familiar with. While there’s nothing wrong with a legislature full of lawyers, teachers, retirees, and various consultants, it’s not exactly representative of Minnesota.

Eliminating benefits for elected officials would make it less likely, not more, that people with “normal” 9-to-5 jobs will choose to run for office. Only those people who are already well-off and don’t require a salary or health benefits would be able to run. This would lead to a legislature that is less reflective of the myriad careers in this state. That’s a “redesign” of government, I guess, but not a terribly good one in my opinion.

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