Cut the Budget … By Cutting Length of Session
As the S.C. legislative session finally comes to a close this week, it’s worth asking whether lawmakers are making good use of their time – and taxpayer dollars.
As the chart from the National Conference of State Legislatures indicates below, South Carolina’s legislative session is one of the longest in the country. According to article III, § 9 of the state constitution, the annual session of the General Assembly shall convene “on the second Tuesday of January of each year.” The constitution, however, does not stipulate any limit to the length of the session. Rather, state law (§ 2-1-180) requires that session end by 5 p.m. on the first Thursday in June, unless legislators agree by a two-thirds vote to extend it. Legislation introduced in 2009 would have shortened session by one (H 3405) to two (S 209) months; but none of these bills moved beyond committee.
Shortening session would accomplish two things. First, it would reduce administrative costs. Consider that the proposed FY2010-11 budget allocates $30 million for House and Senate operations: $17.6 million for the House (or $142,058 per representative); and $12.3 million for the Senate (or $268,047 per senator). (The governor has vetoed the $4 million-plus funding increase both chambers gave themselves this year.)
As compensation for their service, legislators receive the following, according to the scstatehouse.gov website:
- $10,400 annually (see here, for a state-by-state comparison)
- $1,000 per month in-district compensation, as authorized by budget proviso 70.15
- Subsistence expenses per day for session, except days when local uncontested matters are considered (cf. proviso 70.4)
- Travel expenses for distance traveled (at standard IRS rate) going to and returning from Columbia on weekend adjournments
- $1,800 (max) for annual telephone charges (per House rules)
- $600 per session for postage
Senate and House staffers are also well paid, according to a Feb. 2010 Nerve article.
Even more important than the cost savings is that shortening session would be an important step toward streamlining government. It goes without saying that lawmakers could fulfill their duties more efficiently. South Carolina’s legislative session is five months long. By comparison, legislatures in five states, including Texas, meet every other year. As reported by The Nerve: “‘An average session length is 120 calendar days.’
That means the Palmetto State’s session is a full-on month longer than the norm. … In Georgia, the session is limited to 40 legislative days; in Florida, 60 calendar days.”
Moreover, it’s clear legislators have plenty of time to spare. This past session, lawmakers spent hours debating state heritage animals. They also found time to consider hundreds of memorial resolutions and bills, such as H 4865, which would designate the Florence Pecan Festival the official state pecan festival. At the same time, one reason legislators failed to pass a bill (H 3047) requiring roll call voting is because they apparently “don’t have enough time” to vote on the record.
Here’s a look at the length of legislative sessions around the nation. In the table below, “L” refers to legislative days and “C” refers to calendar days.
|State||Current Session Length Limit||Method of Setting|
|Alabama||30 L in 105 C||Statute|
|Arizona||Sat. of week in which 100th C falls||Chamber rule|
|Connecticut||Odd-Wed after 1st Mon in June
Even- Wed after 1st Mon in May
|Kentucky||Odd: 30 L or Mar 30
Even:60 L or Apr 15
|Louisiana||Odd-45 L in 60 C
Even-60 L in 85 C
|Maine||Odd-3rd Wed in June
Even-3rd Wed in Apr
Odd-3rd Wed in November
Informal sessions: None
|Minnesota||120 L total within biennium or 1st Mon after 3rd Sat in May each year||Constitution|
|Mississippi||90 C except year after gubernatorial election, then 125 C||Constitution|
|Montana||Biennial session; 90 L||Constitution|
|Nevada||Biennial session ; 120 C||Constitution|
|New Hampshire||45 L or July 1||Indirect|
|New Jersey||None||Not applicable|
|New Mexico||Odd-60 C
|New York||None||Not applicable|
|North Carolina||None||Not applicable|
|North Dakota||Biennial session ; 80 L||Constitution|
|Oklahoma||Last Fri in May||Constitution|
|Oregon||Biennial session ; None||Not applicable|
|Rhode Island||None||Not applicable|
|South Carolina||1st Thurs in June||Statute|
|South Dakota||40 L||Constitution|
|Texas||Biennial session ; 140 C||Constitution|
|West Virginia||60 C||Constitution|
Nothing in the foregoing should be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder passage of any legislation.
Copyright © 2010 South Carolina Policy Council.