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Part-Time Legislature Won't Solve Sacto's Problems

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    Results from a recent statewide public opinion poll show that nearly two-thirds of Californians favor a part-time legislature.

    Resentment has been brewing for some time.

    Year after year, the polarized legislature has found it almost impossible to do anything about the state's repeated budget deficits except whack away at critical programs and services.

    The public has become so dismayed that last July, another poll found that only 18 percent of the state's registered voters approved of the legislature's performance. Thus, the growing interest in a part-time legislature.

    After all, can matters be any worse?

    Maybe so.

    On the surface, a part-time legislature would appear to solve a few problems. With less time in Sacramento, there would be less need for full-time legislative staffs and lower salaries for legislators.

    Those changes alone could save perhaps $200 million annually.

    Meeting part-time might force legislators to get to work sooner rather than later if they had, say, a 120 day window every other year as legislators do in most other states. So, what's not to like?

    Tempting as it may be, a part-time legislature might create more problems than the current mess.

    Legislators represent people in their districts who elect them to office.As such, their responsibilities are two-fold: to make statewide laws and attend to the needs of their constituents. Their offices in Sacramento and in their districts are gateways for individuals and groups to connect with legislators directly.

    A part-time legislature might put both roles in jeopardy.

    As part-time policy makers, legislators would become ever more reliant on full-time lobbyists and full-time bureaucrats, neither of whom are elected by anyone.

    Part-time legislators would also become second-class policy makers next to the governor, who also serves full-time and has a huge staff to help fashion his policy proposals.

    Matters would also become more problematic in the districts that elect legislators.

    If legislators meet only for a few months every other year, where would constituents turn for help with questions on current laws, assistance in gaining legislative support for new laws, or getting a legislator's help on working through red tape associated with a permitting process or other regulation?

    With part-time legislators, there would be no reason for district offices except for the brief periods that legislators meet.

    In this, a state with an economy equal to the eighth largest nation in the world, do we really want policies crafted by unelected lobbyists and bureaucrats whose full-time presence would overwhelm a part-time body that would have even less expertise and knowledge than the current arrangement? Maybe not.

    Instead, perhaps we need to take more responsibility for choosing our legislators. Hopefully, better organized and less gerrymandered districts next year courtesy of the Citizens Redistricting Position will help us take that path.
     

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