Matt Krauss: Should we increase legislative pay and benefits?

This commentary is by Matt Krauss, of Stowe. He is a retired state employee and former state legislator.

As a former legislator I understand and appreciate departing legislators complaints about pay and benefits. And, as a former legislator I hope turnover based on complaints about legislative pay and benefits continue with every biennium.

Matt Krauss

How can these two apparently conflicting positions be held? In 1988 I was elected to the first of two terms to the Vermont House of Representatives. Thirty-eight years old and employed, with a working wife, five children and a disabled mother-in-law to support. We purchased food at large warehouse style stores in industrial-sized containers. If you have children, you know cereal, milk and peanut butter cost a lot and disappear quickly. One son used a large vegetable-sized bowl for his cereal with a quart of milk for breakfast.

My election was a source of pride, but the family didn’t exactly expect the impact of an already constrained lifestyle becoming more challenging. Before my first term the legislature had written into law a future seventeen week legislative session. Then they decided to stay an extra week and voted themselves $175,000 as compensation for the extra week’s pay.  A small number of legislators of both parties voted against the extra pay, but lost the vote overwhelmingly. Ten legislators ultimately chose to not receive the extra pay. One of them for good measure decided not to take an expense check either (initials MK). My reason for not accepting pay or expenses was that it was, “breaking our promise with the citizens of Vermont” (BTA 5/2/1989). The discussion with my wife over that principled stand went far beyond any legislative debate ever encountered in eight years of service. I mention this episode not to imply we were more noble, but to illustrate that other legislators have sacrificed much more in past years.

I was fortunate to have had several conversations with (now deceased) Governor Dick Snelling in the State House. He was a former House member and impressed upon me the true service ethos we accepted when we chose to run for and win a seat in the legislature. His summary was accept the temporary financial pain and after a few terms return to your occupation and the business of making a living again. Give everything you had, give the best you’ve got and then get out and let some other equally talented Vermonter have their turn. It was sage advice then and sage advice now.

I worked in Human Resources, and there was an axiom that after about five years in a managerial position your efforts were exhausted, your ideas finished; time to move on. After eight years in the Legislature, I could answer any question before you had completed the question. That’s a bad place to be. One cannot imagine what thirty years of Legislative service does to one’s brain, but I knew what eight years had done to mine.

So I say to current legislators, others have experienced this difficulty too. For the benefit of the institution of a citizen legislature, please accept the temporary financial discomfort, serve your time honorably, and then go back to gainful employment as thousands of legislators past and present have done. Set a shining example for those future legislators who will be concerned with pay and benefits too.

Before my time the Legislature was occupied by many farmers who stayed in session until it was planting time and then they left. Truth be told, today’s legislature is much, much more representative then those early days and in my time too. Many more women, more minorities, many with vastly better educations, etc., which is all to the good.

Do you want a twenty-two-year-old person serving in the legislature? Perhaps we should elect a high school graduate with four years of practical life experience driving a plow truck, landscaping, working as a customer service representative or a FedEx driver. You’ll appreciate electing young folks with a common-sense approach to problems and situations. They are just as talented and worthy of our vote as a college graduate.

Perhaps the real question to be pondered is should a 22-year-old without an occupation be asking for a larger salary with benefits? Would small businesses or non-profits agree to a recent untested college graduate’s money and benefits demands, especially given other more experienced employees? Are there too many folks serving in the Legislature looking for their first real job using their service as a springboard? Are they burnishing their resume for some other position?

In my time there were a number of legislators who claimed their occupation was “consultant”. Many pondered exactly what they consulted on given their seeming lack of obvious consultant-like talents and prior consultant jobs. Does today’s legislature have such consultant types?

I recently noted the retirement of some legislators who served with me during my time many years ago. Sadly, there are more still serving. Be careful what you wish for. Increase the benefits and pay and with the advantages of incumbency you might end up with a sclerotic, aged and stodgy citizen legislature in the future. Is that what Vermonters really want and need? Or would they like more turnover?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Jared C. Benedict

9 thoughts on “Matt Krauss: Should we increase legislative pay and benefits?

  1. What exactly does a volunteer legislature mean? I worked at the State House in the early 80’s. A number of the members then were far from destitute. Howard Dean, Peter Welch, Ralph Wright, Helen Riehle, John Bloomer, Mary Just Skinner, Bill Doyle, Vincent Illuzzi…just to name a few. These people crying poverty for serving in the State of Vermont Legislature is a flat out lie! They get plenty of perks throughout the session and afterward. The army of lobbyists filling the hallways each session grease many a palm under the Golden Dome. Not to mention the boards and commissions that are assigned to do their work so they don’t have to bother. The Legislators receive political action committee money and the Party line money as well. If it is so difficult to manage financially, how has Dick Sears, Ann Cummings, Ginny Lyons, or Mark MacDonald sat there for years upon years? Those long serving members seem to be managing quite well under such hardship serving in the Legislature. All they want is more money for less work. All they want is more power for less work. All they want is to overturn the State Constitution and take away all power from the People. They are eliitist wannabes with no ethics, no morals, and deserve nothing more than what they are getting. Disgraceful grifters!

  2. We should pay more to be subjugated into serf status by our commie overlords??
    I think not we just need to elect more Matt that love VT and it’s people instead of ones
    trying to turn us into Calicommies. The whiners that are whining are not those we need
    to be representing us so just quit instead of whining

  3. Pay raise…….you have got to be kidding me! You Legislature of Vt …this little state ..take over 5 months to make a plan for 12 and of course your paid by the week and travel, meals, rooms……..
    the gall to want more from the taxpayer……
    I say your session is 2 months, you get x dollars for those 2 months,if longer its on you or every 2 years for up to 4 months with similar stipend. no benefits after
    our for-fathers did not intend for “career politicians” and this county and state have FAR too many……
    our governor needs to be 4 years (2 term max) thus preventing 1 year job, 1 year campaigning
    legislature 2 year, 2/3 term max…….sick of all of the greed, self serving……..

  4. Term limits and no pay raise until the pension is fixed and fully funded. Vermont is living under a haze of unacceptable wants and daydreams. Schools are struggling to meet the grades taxpayers expect, pay for and deserve. Vermont has lost its way but it’s not too late. Vermont needs common sense legislators. Vote for more republicans to get some balance.

  5. “Matt Krauss: Should we increase legislative pay and benefits?”…. Matt this is a joke correct !!

    If the legislators worked for any other company, with their performance record they would all
    be fired, Should we increase legislative pay and benefits is a slap in the face to every working

    Any legislator that asks or takes a handout, needs to be taken out of office as they have no
    shame or morals…

    why don’t they get a sign a stand by the interstate that states ” Legislator Needs Money ” lets
    see what that would get’em, from those going to work …………… shameless.

    Balance the state’s budget, pay off the liabilities, and maybe we’ll think of a pay increase !!!!

  6. We should rid ourselves of those whom don’t honor their sworn pledge. Many of us do not want to be the first colony of the United Nations. Yet so many carry the water.

    Many of them quietly say, “you will own nothing and be happy.”……

    How many have seen 2000 Mules….it’s awesome. And clearly they have picked up on Vermont’s lead on censorship…..because just like Vermont the truth is having a very, very difficult time seeing the light of day.

    The only thing worse than bad press is no press, and we’ve got plenty of that.

  7. There should be no increase in pay. If elected, you are there to serve the public. That is what you say when you decide to run. Not too ask for more pay. Matt says there are still many who there when he was. I was shocked to see how many are still there who were there before I arrived.

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