Rodney Tom last week prompted widespread news coverage of another one of those tantalizing “if only” proposals. The state Senate majority leader from Medina has proposed fining each legislator $250 a day during special sessions, thus to promote more timely work by the lawmakers. Tom was quoted by Erik Smith of washingtonstatewire.com: “We need some pressure to move this process, and right now we don’t have this kind of pressure in the system.
“Our guess is that such a ballot measure might be approved by a wide margin of voters, but dreaming about the legislators agreeing to impose such a costly penalty on themselves is just that: a dream.
Still, wouldn’t it be great if our legislators could conduct the people’s business on time? Instead, as the website above also reported, special sessions have been called in 23 of the past 34 years.
A more likely solution would be suspending per diem ($90 per day for each legislator) during special sessions. That ought to get their attention. Many of the state politicians, including some here in Clark County, do not accept per diem during special sessions. Good for them. Their decision might carry some clout in the next campaign.
But as for Tom’s suggestion, at least three local legislators oppose the creation of a $250 daily fine for special sessions. Their reasons vary, but they have something in common that might reveal what this discussion is all about: personal wealth, or lack thereof. The three who were quoted in a Columbian story last Wednesday — Jim Moeller, Brandon Vick and Monica Stonier — do not exactly fall into the same income bracket as the Senate majority leader.
The Medina resident, according to a Seattle Times story, has a real estate background, lives off investments and owns a $5 million waterfront home. By contrast, Moeller works as a chemical dependency counselor, Vick works in his family’s landscaping business and Stonier works as a teaching coach in the Evergreen school district. All three prove that the citizen-Legislature concept can be embraced by people who are not among the wealthy. We therefore conclude that a $250 daily fine might hit Tom with nowhere near the ferocity that it would strike Moeller, Vick or Stonier.
Smith, of washingtonstatewire.com, seemed to agree that Tom’s “suggestion would penalize rank-and-file lawmakers for their leaders’ inability to reach an agreement. A bit of mismanagement at the top might make it hard for a citizen legislator to pay the rent and electric bills back home.” He also wrote that a $250 daily fine for legislators during this year’s overtime deliberations “would have meant a $12,000 hit for everyone one of the state’s 147 lawmakers” plus the costs of gas and lodging.
Still, we can dream about the warm satisfaction of fining a politician who can’t meet a deadline.
Michael Baumgartner also has been dreaming. The Republican state senator from Spokane cranked out his own tongue-in-cheek suggestion for punishing deadline-busting legislators: Move the state capital to Walla Walla “or someplace in Eastern Washington, and you guys can drive over the pass to see how it feels.”