Full-time legislature would mean big-time trouble

I was extremely pleased when Jay Webber, Republican candidate for state Assembly in the 26th legislative district, sent out a press release bashing an editorial in The Star-Ledger, which promoted the idea of creating a full-time legislature in New Jersey. It is an issue I have been adamantly against for a long time, even as it begins to gain some popularity from both citizens and legislators.

Now that Democratic state Senator Joseph Doria is leaving the State House and will not be seeking re-election, he’s decided to try and go out with a bang by introducing legislature that would make legislators full-time employees of the state. The only states in the country that have full-time legislatures are California, New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Doria claims that by doing this, legislators will no longer be tied to as much corruption, most obviously stemming from the practice of dual office holding. Because legislators are only paid $49,000 a year, many seek more than one public job, and in some cases, two, three or even six. All of this is in an effort to increase their salary and political clout, and ultimately their state pensions.

It’s easy to see how holding several offices may be a conflict of interest, which is highlighted perfectly in the recent 20-count corruption indictment against Democratic state Senator Wayne Bryant and R. Michael Gallagher, former Dean at New Jersey’s School of Osteopathic Medicine.

While all of this may be true, a full-time legislature is not the answer.

There have been studies done that show full-time, “professionalized” legislatures spend, tax and regulate more than states with part-time representatives do.

This is because the government becomes even more bloated than it already is. With a full-time legislature, legislators will need more staff to help them with their day-to-day schedules. The bureaucratic process becomes thicker and slower, with more and more people standing in the way of adequate progress.

In order to have more government personnel to assist in this operation, you need money. Where do you think those dollars are going to come from? It is going to come right out of our wallets and into the government. Forget tax cuts (like we would ever expect those in New Jersey, right?); expect tax increases.

New Jersey is especially not apt for a full-time legislature. With the highest property taxes in the country, 566 municipalities and Democrats proposing joke tax relief, an end to a part-time legislature will surely put us even more in the red.

The public already shows its disdain toward career politicians. By approving a full-time legislature, the government is essentially facilitating self-serving interests. This would entrench politicians even further as they find ways to manipulate the government and increase taxes, which would in turn give them the means to govern more.

This form of state government prevents a diverse group of people from running for office. It may even discourage those who are not already affluent from running, and full-time legislators will surely be able to pull strings to help assure their incumbency advantage prevails.

Are we trying to dispose of a citizen legislature? Is that not what we’re supposed to have? Has New Jersey reached rock bottom to the point where we don’t even consider personal accountability? Are we so pathetic that we have to reform a system to ensure, on top of the restraints our society already has on preventing wrongdoing, what our representatives are supposed to be doing is legal and moral?

If you ask me, this is eerily similar to Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s poor rationale behind getting a state comptroller.

Just because there are some people who indulge in grimy politics does not mean you change the entire system. Even if you did, do these proponents of a full-time legislature think that criminal activity will be completely stamped out? If they do, I sincerely hope they re-think their position.

New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney, Chris Christie, has done a phenomenal job catching these shady politicians, both Democrats and Republicans alike. With an active U.S. Attorney, those that think of pursuing wrong-doing may have to think twice. It cannot yet be determined how Christie may affect the “individualistic” political culture of New Jersey.

Since New Jersey has a part-time legislature, politicians should not get lifetime pension benefits simply for serving in the government. Maybe then representatives wouldn’t feel the need to “double dip” and take “no-show” jobs as often.

The citizens of New Jersey do not want legislators getting cozy even more than they already do with special interests in Trenton. We want representatives spending more time at home, abiding by the rules in which they fight for. We do not want our legislators becoming above the law and out of touch with the constituents they are supposed to be representing. New Jersey needs citizen-legislators who have real families, real jobs and real people to work for. These things will help provide a reality-check for those in and out of the State House.

Like former President Ronald Reagan said, “Government is not the solution to our problem, it is the problem.” By creating a full-time legislature, this will only increase the size of government, resulting in a degradation of the Garden State.

Information from – webberforassembly.com, The Star-Ledger