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Off With Their Chairs: Pols Should Feel Budget Pain

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NewsConference: Joe Mathews, Author, Columnist, NBCLA.COM Prop. Zero Blogger

Joe Mathews with the New America Foundation analysis the California budget crisis.
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State legislators were stripped of their taxpayer-supported cars last week. The same state commission that did that is now looking at taking away their "per diem" payments, to cover meals and other expenses for each day they are at work in Sacramento.

But is it enough? Since the one great consensus in California politics is that our legislators are to blame for our various civic ills, it seems that more action is needed. Here are five ideas.

1. Take away their cushy chairs. Too many lawmakers sit on their butts instead of passing budgets. That's because too many have comfy chairs. Some are even made of leather, or material that looks like leather. Let's ban such chairs. If lawmakers must sit, they should be required to use very hard, wood chairs, so they don't sit for long.

2. Remove all the light bulbs in their offices. California legislators use quite a bit of electricity, but why? They don't even bother to read the bills. So let them work in the dark. It would save the state money and remind them who's boss: the people, who have electricity. If lawmakers insist on some light, let them use candles, as long as they pay for them themselves.

3. Lawmakers have forgotten that they are employees. They take breaks for meals or to go to the bathroom whenever they please. To remind them the people are sovereign, each lawmaker should get written permission from a constituent before using the restroom during weekday work hours.

4. Stop providing toilet paper for Capitol bathrooms. In the past, there's been a lot of discussion -- and apparently some action -- to use one-ply toilet paper in California's house of government. But given the partisanship and failure to make a deal on the budget, this incentive wasn't working. So it's time to get tough. No toilet paper at all. This might shorten debate, since lawmakers would routinely have to run across L Street to one of the hotels or office buildings to do their business.

5. Sacramento's restaurants are full of lawmakers cozying up to influencers of one kind or another. Such conversation is corrupting. It also means that lawmakers are eating food that they may not have been produced locally. Solution: turn Capitol Park into a ranch and vegetable garden, and require lawmakers to eat all their meals from plants grown right on the site (and from animals that could be raised there). There would be some start-up costs and the building might smell a bit like, well, fertilizer. But much of the rhetoric about state government -- both inside and outside the Capitol -- is fertilizer anyway.

And if lawmakers have any self-respect left after these changes are made, we could always force them to walk around the Capitol in arm and leg irons.

Of course, none of these steps to punish lawmakers would save much money. And these ideas ignore the fact that Californians ask more of their legislators' than citizens of any other state ask their representatives. California legislators represent three times as many people as lawmakers in the state with the next largest districts, and 10 times as many as the average legislators nationally. 

But such cuts make you feel good. Don't they?

Related Topics Cash, Kids, Jobs, State Legislators
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