I thought of this while weaving my bike through rush hour traffic in downtown Raleigh this morning, so that ought to be a red flag right there but here goes. As our policy potentate Chris Fitzsimon frequently notes, a full-time General Assembly with full-time pay would enable many more ordinary North Carolinians to serve as legislators. With a $14,000 average annual salary (there is a $104 per diem, but remember you do have to rent an apartment and pay for your meals – ouch, remember lobbying reform – out of that) and six month or four month sessions, its easiest for folks who are retired or independently wealthy to serve.
There isn’t much of a groundswell of support for a full-time General Assembly (sorry Chris) but we do need more ordinary folks down there in Raleigh. So, why not pay legislators a full-time modest salary, keep the sessions the same length, and require something else of our public-spirited servants? When the Assembly wasn’t in session and they weren’t on a study commission or attending to other legislative business, legislators could be required to do some sort of job in their local communities in return for their salary.
We’d leave what the job was up to the legislator and require a public accounting so their constituents could judge for themselves whether their tax dollars were being well spent. It really could be anything from leading a Boy Scout troop to building trails at the local community park. This could be innovative – legislators could start their own charitable organizations, participate in local advocacy groups or cook meals at their church or local homeless shelter. They could recruit businesses, sweep streets, or inspire students.
Be warned though – if your “outside-the-legislature” job was more about benefiting a narrow slice of the community than a broader effort to improve your district the voters might not like that come election time. I’m not going to hold my breath for this bill’s introduction but, you have to admit, it would give a whole new meaning to the term “public servant.”
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