Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I again ask for evidence: vote "No" on Proposition 300

Proposition 300 this year is the question of a pay raise for the legislature, referred to the voters by the Commission on Salaries for Elective State Officers. It's more modest than that proposed in 2006: a $6000 raise to $30,000 per year, as opposed to a $12,000 raise to $36,000 per year.

In the voter guide, the Arizona Advocacy Network recommends that we pass the measure so that the legislators don't have to come to rely on special interests to pay their keep. Baloney!--bribery is prosecutable and we can vote out of office those who offer legal quid pro quo. There is nevertheless something to be said for raising the salary: running for the legislature is currently unattractive to those of modest means who simply cannot abandon their jobs or businesses for a third of the year. I'd say that the low salary keeps class warriors out, but it doesn't: socialized medicine proponent Phil Lopes is an obvious example of that.

Perhaps if we raise the salary a bit, we can in the long term attract not only those of more modest means, but those of more modest attitudes. To take the financial hit being a legislator entails, one must value power more than the lost income. For "crusader" types, who see themselves as God's gift to Arizona--I'm thinking of Lopes, and Russel Pearce, too--the choice is clear. But this is mere speculation; I have no real-world reason to believe that the legislature will become less ideological at the margin were salaries to be raised.

Most arguments in favor of a "no" vote are stupid. The most common is simple disapproval of the current legislators: they don't "deserve" a raise. That's not what this question is about; the proper ballot line on which to show disapproval of a legislator is that corresponding to the legislative race. Similarly, Governor Napolitano's take, that the legislators shouldn't get raises because many other Arizonans aren't getting raises, is stupid. We don't determine wages and salaries by a toddler's concept of fairness (the "Daddy Model"), we determine it based on our guess as to what the extra money spent will get us.

I've noted that libertarians of the vulgar sort are very uncomfortable with the idea that laws can change and dead set in their flighty utopianism against mechanisms to change the law: Libertarian Party candidate for US Congress Powell Gammill gives us an example of this in his piece in the voter guide (linked above). We get a daffy anarchist credo, followed by Ernest Hancock's insightless slogan ("Freedom's the answer; what's the question?"), followed by an assertion that the legislature ought simply pass a budget and go home. Nonsense!--the way Gammill puts it, the legislature oughtn't legislate, forget what's written in the AZ Constitution and forget the good of the people of the State!

Shake the stupid out of it, and Gammill is nonetheless on to something. The Legislature doesn't go home when it should. It delays important business to spend time on nonsense. A raise might benefit us in the long run by attracting marginally better candidates, but we have no short-run evidence that a raise would do us good. As was the case with Tucson Prop 403, I want to see some signs that this is needed: the legislators prioritizing important matters and hurrying to get home to run their businesses or work their jobs and pay the bills. Say "No" to the raise again.

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