The Georgia General Assembly is a crucial part of our state government. It represents the interests of local communities, affects issues such as education and environmental protection and offers those interested in politics a chance to gain legislative experience. Despite its importance, the General Assembly only operates for 40 days a year, and its members earn a paltry $17,342 salary annually.
The short legislative session and low salary limit the effectiveness of our government. Georgia should professionalize its General Assembly.
Some legislators may be reluctant to raise their own salaries because of the poor chances of doing so. There is also a fear that higher pay would lead to more career politicians. These concerns pale in comparison to the benefits an improved General Assembly would have.
The current legislative system in place severely limits who can run for office in Georgia. The low pay and need to take extended time off a regular job prevent lower-income people from running and serving their communities.
Michael Lynch, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia, explains that many states pay their legislators higher salaries than in Georgia, resulting in more efficient leadership.
“In terms of how professionalized [the Georgia General Assembly] is, I think it’s pretty close to the bottom,” Lynch said. “In some places in the United States, the salary is over $100,000. They have lots of staff, and they meet all year long.”
A recent bipartisan bill proposed raising the 236 Georgia General Assembly members’ salary to $56,183 — the median income of Georgia residents according to the U.S. Census. A rough calculation shows that paying all 236 the median Georgia salary would cost about $10 million, using the Smart Asset Georgia paycheck calculator. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that Georgia’s GDP equaled $588,171,700,000, meaning the increase would be about 0.00002% of our economic output.
Experience is key to the effectiveness of state legislators. The Brookings Institute argues experience enables lawmakers to be more knowledgeable on policy, from important working relationships and to understanding the legislative process better. With more days in session, lawmakers could gain the experience critical to doing their jobs faster, ensuring that we have a smarter and more efficient government. Plus, a lack of experience and policy understanding could empower lobbyists to manipulate naive legislators.
“I worry that the less power the legislature has, the less professionalized it is, it probably also has the potential of increasing the role of lobbyists,” Lynch said. “Having a legislature that’s there all the time and knows what’s going on has some benefits.”
So, to anyone in the Georgia General Assembly, I leave you with a final message: be brave, and give yourself a raise.