Open Letter to All Hawaii State Legislators-Teaching Legislators Real-World Accountability

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“Dick Rowland Image”

Fully aware that this idea is too late for the 2003 legislative session, it nonetheless is forwarded for your consideration and planning for the 2004 session.


Here it is.


You mentioned in a talk last week that the Legislature had passed one bill so far, which was to authorize the expenditure of $20,800,000 to support the operations of the legislature for 2003-4. With 76 in the Legislature divided into the $20,800,000 one gets $273,684 for each legislator for the two years. Divided by 24, one gets a cost per legislator per month of $11,416.66.

Currently, legislators are assigned their offices and allowed staff and other expenses at no out-of-pocket costs. They do not have to deal with accounting, hiring, payroll taxes, advisor fees, office space expenses, office supplies etc. But they deal with policy on those matters all the time.


Eliminate all pay, benefits, all employees, office space and office equipment and supplies for legislators and their support. That includes the Legislative and Minority/Majority Research Offices and all other “free” support offices.

Then provide an allowance to each legislator of $11,416.66 per month for his or her term of office. With that allowance each legislator will rent appropriate space (from the state or elsewhere), hire employees and pay all relevant benefits (including their own), pay for office supplies, etc. Also, for the research and design of proposed bills, the legislators involved will be free to select and pay the researchers & bill development offices in or out of government. Further, special allowances for leaders like the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House will be paid into a special fund for the support of these leaders. The same will be true of other support (Sgt at Arms, clerk of the Senate, etc.).

If the legislator fails to pay for services, he or she will be handled in default as a business would be handled. If services are provided from any source for free or below market rates, the legislator will be required to reveal such. For example if the Teamster Union provided a legislator with a Xerox machine, such would be made public knowledge. Borrowing against future cash flow would be allowed with similar disclosure. The Legislative Auditor or other qualified auditors will audit each legislator’s accounts each year (January) and report results to the press and to the legislative leadership. The legislators will pay a negotiated fee for this service.

The per-session allowance adjustment would be pegged at one-half of 1 percent below inflation or deflation and could be otherwise changed only by recommendation of a commission (carefully designed to avoid self-dealing), a 75 percent vote of the Legislature and signature of the governor.


Each legislator would become a semi-business person. Understanding of the difficulties faced by entrepreneurs and small family businesses would be enhanced. Some legislators, if they were poor managers, would get no pay. Others would fail to act responsibly and pocket much of the allowance. The audit would reveal such. Severe penalties for malfeasance should be specified and who would be held accountable for enforcement should be identified.


If the above was proposed and taken seriously, we would “discover” all sorts of costs for running the Legislature that had never been revealed before. It might be appropriate to increase the allowance to, say, $15,000 each month. But once the above went into effect, legislators will complain that they are so very busy running their business (to them, wasting time) that they have little time to consider legislation. That would be a good thing because:

*Much frivolous legislation would never be proposed (too expensive personally);

*Understanding of legislative impact (unintended consequences) would be raised;

*Legislators would become, by and large, more thoughtful and careful in legislative activities; and

*Less “career” politicians would run for office (less benefits, more accountability).

”’Richard O. Rowland is the president of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. He can be reached via email at:”’