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Excessive sessions bring excessive lawmakers’ pay

Legislative bickering and partisan politics isn’t justfrustrating – it’s expensive as well.

Mississippians learned last week that taxpayers, over a 12-monthperiod from May 2004 through April 2005 paid more than $17.3million in salaries and other compensation to state lawmakers.

Much of that astronomical figure was the result of specialsession after special session as state lawmakers refused to come tothe table during the regular session and negotiate in good faith onissues such as tort reform, voter identification, Department ofHuman Services funding and economic development. Instead, somelegislators preferred to obstinately impede progress and hold outfor their own way.

Lawmakers are paid a $10,000 salary plus a monthly expenseallowance, mileage and other expenses for job-related trips. Beyondthat, special sessions cost Mississippi taxpayers $34,900 per day,Senate Secretary John Gilbert told The Associated Press in April.Each day of a regular session, on the other hand costs just$18,702, Gilbert said.

The message to lawmakers should be clear. Their job is to servethe public, and running up legislative costs by forcing repeatedspecial sessions serves no one (except, perhaps, themselves). It’sirresponsible to draw a line in the sand and refuse to compromise -or even work toward a compromise, knowing they willeventually have to return to work and cost taxpayers more in theprocess.

To be sure, special sessions of the Legislature are sometimesnecessary when pressing matters come up once the House and Senatehave adjourned for the session. But special sessions made necessaryonly because lawmakers refused to do their job in the first placeare another matter entirely.

State lawmakers must commit themselves to working diligently tofinish their work – the people’s work – in a timely andcost-effective manner during the 2006 session. To do anything lesswould certainly be a betrayal of the public trust.