Sunday, June 13, 2010

Slow Down Government, Part I: State Reform

Congressional reform is a perfect starting point for the Lysander Spooner Institute's efforts to reduce the size and scope of government at all levels. Right now, it is simply too easy for legislators to pass massive bills that spend and regulate us without limitation or accountability. By putting more limitations on the way our federal and state legislatures do business, we can slow down the expansion of government. This post is Part I of a two-part series on legislative reform. Today, we'll address reform of state assemblies, using Pennsylvania as an example. Part II will discuss reform of Congress at the federal level.

Pennsylvania has one of the largest state assemblies in the country with 253 members. This has led many advocates of smaller to government to consider shrinking the size of the state's over-staffed, over-priced legislature. Research by Penssylvania's Commonwealth Foundation has found that reducing the number of legislators does not substantially change the cost, effectiveness, or accountability of the assembly.

The problem in Pennsylvania is not the number of legislators, but how they legislate. The Pennsylvania assembly legislates full time. They are literally professional politicians, making a salary of $78,314. This lucrative establishment has helped earn Pennsylvania the Department of Justice's ranking of the 11th most corrupt state in America. Nathan Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation reports,
While the cost of the General Assembly has skyrocketed, Pennsylvania's economy has remained stagnant. For the period 1991-2009, the Keystone State ranked: 43rd in job growth, 48th in personal income growth, and 47th in population growth. In 1977, with a part-time legislature, the Commonwealth had the 22nd heaviest tax burden; today, Pennsylvania ranks 11th in state and local tax burden per capita and 45th in economic freedom.
A Commonwealth Foundation analysis found that "each increase in the level of professionalization [of legislators] results in an estimated $441 increase in spending per person, and a 0.4% increase in taxes as a percentage of income. Benefield compares PA to Texas, which has a part-time assembly that meets 140 days over a two-year term. The Texas assembly passes more bills (probably smaller, easier-to-read bills) and maintains better job growth than Pennsylvania's "professionals."

As a starting point for downsizing state-level government, lets put an end to "professional" state assemblies and go back to the republican system of representative assemblies.

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