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The Citizen Legislature: How Reasonable Limits on State Legislative Salaries, Staff and Session Lengths Keep Liberty Alive

November 18, 2014


In the last two decades, the Arizona Legislature has sent three measures to the ballot to raise legislative salaries. Only one, Proposition 302 in 1998 passed. Arizona voters have been wise. Although Arizona lawmakers are paid only $24,000 per year, often share staff, and have not had a pay raise since 1998, the state’s inadvertent frugality in this respect has helped protect freedom.

An analysis of indicators of economic and personal freedom in the 50 states reveals that states with “citizen legislatures”—part-time legislators, low salaries, short sessions, and small legislative staffs—enjoy more economic and individual liberty. New Hampshire, which enjoyed the top overall freedom ranking, also enjoyed the status of having the most minimalistic state legislature. By contrast, five out of the ten least freedom-friendly states—New York, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts and Illinois—all shared the dubious honor of supporting state legislatures that are among the top ten most lavish in terms of salary, staff, and session length.

Our findings confirm that citizen legislators—as opposed to career legislators—avoid legislating in areas that are normally private domains and prevent government from expanding unsustainably. Consequently, voters should continue to resist efforts to increase legislators’ salaries, staff, and the length of time the legislature is in session.

Arizona, in particular, would also benefit from a reduction in the size of its legislative staff given the state actually has one of the larger contingents in the country. Further, the state could consider reducing the duration of legislative sessions, perhaps even moving to a biennial session as in Texas, Nevada, Montana, and North Dakota. Simple reforms could produce big results. If Arizona adopted New Hampshire’s citizen legislature model, Arizona’s fiscal freedom ranking, which measures tax and spending policies, could jump from 15th most free in the nation to fourth.

Read The Citizen Legislature: How Reasonable Limits on State Legislative Salaries, Staff and Session Lengths Keep Liberty Alive here.



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