Today I'm bringing back one of the least popular ideas I've ever floated — paying legislators more.
That's right. I'm talking about the tone-deaf, often ethically challenged politicians in Tallahassee. I want to give them more money.
When I proposed this idea four years ago, some readers suggested I get a lobotomy. A couple offered to perform it.
But before you get out the bone saw, let's first talk about what we're getting for our money now.
Currently, Florida pays legislators $29,697 a year — to help run one of the largest states in America.
By comparison, members of Congress make about $174,000.
Heck, Orange County commissioners get $76,000.
So what do Floridians get for their basement-level investment?
That's not just my opinion. It's yours. Polls show Floridians like legislators about as much as they like head lice.
We're talking approval ratings ranging from 27 to 35 percent during the past two years, according to Quinnipiac University.
Why is that? Partly because our existing system doesn't attract normal people.
Legislators must leave home for months at a time, commute to Tallahassee, spend more time with lobbyists than their family members and, in many cases, give up their jobs, unless they can take much of the year off.
Many people would find root canals more appealing.
So the current system — with its big sacrifices and low wages — attracts three kinds of people:
1. True public servants willing to sacrifice their lives and personal wealth for the greater good.
2. The independently wealthy, for whom money is no issue.
3. Schemers who view the Legislature as a short-term sacrifice that leads to a long-term payday — as lobbyists or on the payroll of some business that they helped while in office.
l know a few members of the first category. But I spend a lot more time covering the moves of the other two.
After all, it's not the true public servants who doubled your costs to get a drivers license, gutted public education or jacked up college tuition — all while cutting breaks to wealthy investors and sucking up benefits from a Cadillac health-care plan.
In fact, let's talk about that Cadillac health-care package.
Right now, legislators — more than a third of whom are millionaires, according to a study from a few years back — pay a whopping $8 in monthly premiums for one of the poshest health-care plans in the United States.
What sense does that make — having taxpayers provide health-care perks to many wealthy people who already have health care or can easily afford it?
It would make more sense to spend the money on the front end, beefing up the salaries.
Don't get me wrong. I want successful people serving in my Legislature. But I also want to have the perspective of those on the front lines — teachers, cops, small-business owners, social workers, health-care assistants and others.
And right now, most of them can't afford to serve. It's a part-time salary that, for many, requires a full-time commitment.
I don't presume to know the magic number for legislative salaries. I've seen numbers that range from $7,200 in Texas to $95,000 in California. Something like the $49,943 they pay in Wisconsin seems closer to right to me.
The cost would be small in the budget scheme.
I don't think anyone needs to get rich from "public service." But I do think they should be able to pay their bills.
And right now, Florida residents are getting what they pay for.
email@example.com or 407-420-6141