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BILL CRAWFORD: Legislature needs rightsizing too


Republican legislators insist they are making the right moves to “rightsize” state government, which includes shrinking the state budget. If they mean what they say, the Legislature, itself, should be on the rightsizing menu too. 

Mississippi has one of the larger legislatures in the United States, especially for our small population. We have 122 representatives and 52 senators for a total of 174 legislators. This means the 50th state in wealth has the 14th highest number of legislators and the 12th highest ratio of legislators per capita.
Mississippi has by far the most legislators and highest ratio of legislators per capita in our region.
Looking at our neighboring states, we see Louisiana has 144 legislators, one for every 31,482 people; Alabama has 140 legislators, one for every 34,141 people; Arkansas has 135 legislators, one for every 21,599 people; and Tennessee has 132 legislators, one for every 48,077 people.
In comparison, Mississippi has 174 legislators, one for every 17,053 people.
Going with Tennessee’s ratio of legislators per capita would have the most impact. That would give Mississippi 62 legislators, one for every 48,077 people. Going with Arkansas’s ratio would have the least impact. That would give Mississippi 137 legislators, one for every 21,599 people.
It probably makes more sense to use the average of our neighboring states as a guideline. In that case, Mississippi would have 88 legislators, one for every 33,712 people.
Rightsizing the Legislature makes more sense now than in past years. It’s pretty obvious that most legislators are just not needed. Decisions on legislation come down from on high. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and his key committee chairmen keep tight rein on legislation in the Senate. Speaker Philip Gunn and his key committee chairmen do the same in the House.
Since it’s clear Mississippi is wasting taxpayers’ dollars by having so many legislators and even more clear we don’t need 174 legislators to pass legislation, why not save millions of taxpayer dollars by reducing the size of our Legislature? 
The number needed is really very small, but why not go with the average ratio of legislators per capita from our neighboring states? That would give us 88 legislators, about half the number we have now. If the rightsizing is done right, i.e., no changes in salary or expenses per legislator, this reduction would save taxpayers a substantial portion of the $28 million legislators spend on themselves each year.
So, how can our legislators rightsize down to this number? 
Section 254 of the state constitution says they can pick any number of senators and representatives as long as they do not exceed 52 and 122, respectively. So, all our legislators have to do is reapportion the state to say 26 senators and 62 representatives (the same ratio we have now) and we’ll be down to 88 legislators.
Since our Republican legislators are dead set on, and surely sincere about, rightsizing state government and shrinking the state budget, we should expect something like this to happen in time for the next elections.
Or will the ganders not goose themselves like they are everything else?
Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (crawfolk@gmail.com)


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One comment

  1. Bill: I appreciate your point. One thing that concerns me about a shrinking legislature is that it makes each remaining legislator that much more powerful and that much more significant. Seems to me a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln has some relevance here: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Mississippi’s organization of government was structured (largely) to avoid the concentration of power in any one person or office. That’s why so many statewide offices are elected and not appointed. It’s certainly true that the Lt. Governor and the Speaker have found new ways to concentrate power in their offices, but, at least with the speakership, Mississippi has quite often had very powerful Speakers. I don’t necessarily think that shrinking the legislature is a bad thing, but I think we ought to keep an eye on what else happens when we do. Nevertheless, the quality and character of who we elect is always going to be at least as important, and probably more so, than the structure – and, therein, as they say, lies the problem.

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