Editorial: Legislators should not be rewarded

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 27, 2005

In case you missed it, Minnesota lawmakers are charging you, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer, for their inability to get their work done on time. Thus far, Minnesotans will be asked to pay more than $135,000 because of this year’s unprecedented government shutdown and the subsequent special session. And that $135,000-plus tab is not for the actual expenses of running the state government. No, when the government shut down, those funds dried up. Rather, that $135,000 will go directly into the pockets of state legislators &045; those who were responsible for the shutdown in the first place.

So when the legislators failed to get their work done on time and went into special session, eventually causing a government shutdown, several lawmakers filed to receive the $66 a day salary and expense payment. How many? In the Senate, 39 of 67 senators filed for the payment, at an average of $1,589 per senator. In the house 63 or 134 members got the money, at an average of $1,171 per House member. Though the Legislature is about evenly divided between the two major parties, DFLers took about two-thirds of the total &045; $90,500 compared to $45,280 for the GOP.

But wait. There’s more. Though the time period in which they can claim payments has ended for senators, House members still have until mid-October to claim their money &045; or rather, to claim the money paid by Minnesota taxpayers. That means that the total could reach even higher. Hang onto your pocketbooks, they could be picked again.

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Senate Minority Leader Dick Day has refused to accept the extra money. Day, along with other legislative leaders, declined the expense payments, no doubt wanting their fellow partisans to &uot;go, thou, and do likewise.&uot; Unfortunately, the legislative leaders didn’t have much luck getting their party members to fall into line on this point either.

The point is that legislators should not be rewarded when they don’t finish on time. What kind of example are they setting? A child in school who fails to get his homework in on time is not rewarded with bonus points or extra gold stars, but often has points deducted from his grade or even receives a zero. Perhaps that is the way to treat lawmakers. Don’t just hold payments back, but charge them if they are late.

Of course, such an arrangement would require a change in the state law, which is unlikely, given that the lawmakers themselves would have to vote on it. Perhaps they will. Maybe in next year’s special session.

&045; Owatonna People’s Press