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Texas Gov. Rick Perry says part-time legislature suffices

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Texans figure the $7,200 a year they pay their state lawmakers is plenty.

"They've got more government in Texas than they want at $600 per month," Texas Gov. Rick Perry told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Thursday.

Perry talked about the 181-member Legislature -- he's an alumnus of the state House -- that serves a growing state with 22 million people. The Texas Legislature meets 140 days every other year.

Would Texans consider having a full-time legislature like Pennsylvania's 253-member General Assembly, which serves 12 million people, and where lawmakers are paid $73,000 a year, drive state-paid cars and collect generous pensions?

Forget about it, Perry says.

"There are people who always think, 'Let's have a full-time legislature.' I happen to think that's just asking for trouble. When you have a full-time legislature, they just feel pretty inclined to be doing something. So they are going to dream up new laws, new regulations and new statutes -- and generally all of those cost money," Perry said.

The Republican governor made his remarks as a special state House panel in Pennsylvania considers a constitutional amendment to reduce the size of the General Assembly, the nation's largest full-time legislature.

Gov. Ed Rendell, whose recent embrace of reform rings hollow with critics, has proposed reducing the size of the Legislature. He's called for more "citizen soldiers" to serve in the General Assembly.

Asked about Perry's remarks, Chuck Ardo, Rendell's spokesman, said the governor "would agree with him to a certain extent."

Rendell believes "a smaller legislature would be equally responsive to Pennsylvania's needs," Ardo said. "I'm not sure the governor is willing to support a part-time legislature based on the Texas model. He does feel if we have a full-time legislature they ought to be full time."

A revamped legislature isn't about to become law in Pennsylvania -- at least not soon. Last month, when Rendell pitched his reform agenda at the governor's mansion, leaders in his own party sharply criticized him for it.

The freshmen lawmakers who attended -- many of whom ran on reform agendas -- did little to defend the governor, say several legislators who attended the meeting.

Tim Potts, co-founder of Democracy Rising PA, said a year-round legislature is no guarantee that tough issues will be resolved. Pennsylvania's full-time legislature "has proven itself to be absolutely incapable of approving property tax reform for the past 30 or 40 years," he said.

Structural changes in Pennsylvania government are the types of issues that ought to be debated in a constitutional convention, Potts said. Many believe lawmakers are unlikely to make decisions that would cost some of them their jobs -- such as imposing term limits or downsizing the General Assembly. Democracy Rising and other groups are advocating a convention for reform.

"The primary concern ought to be public service -- then, secondarily, they can be concerned with their resumes," Potts said.

In Pennsylvania, the issues aren't that complex, Potts said. It just takes lawmakers with the courage to address them rather than focusing on the next election.

State Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Moon, who is pushing legislation to reduce the number of state senators from 50 to 40 and the number of House members from 203 to 161, likes what he heard from Perry.

"Personally, I would absolutely like that. It would give you citizen legislators who have other jobs," Mustio said.

Additional Information:

Quick hits

In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Thursday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said:

* The Republicans lost control in Congress last year 'because they quit acting like Republicans.' The first requirement is 'fiscal conservatism -- not spending all their (taxpayers') money' followed by 'social issues' and then a strong defense. At the state level that translates into keeping people 'safe at home.'

* Fighting the tide of illegal immigrants coming across Texas' border is an ongoing battle. 'You've got to secure a border first before you have an immigration policy.' The idea of a 1,200-mile fence to keep out immigrants 'is a bit ludicrous to me. The real key is local law enforcement officers who know where the bad guys come across. They're just outgunned and outmanned. I'm for putting people on the border and using technology.' While he has some praise for federal efforts at the border, 'Mostly I poke sticks at them because they are not doing their job.'

* The Texas Legislature enacted -- and Perry signed -- a 33 percent cut in property taxes last year. The state's tax structure is part of an inviting business climate, which includes reasonable regulatory policies and litigation laws that businesses love and trial lawyers dislike.

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