Studying legislative pay

A sure sign lawmakers want something but are scared to death of voting on it? They create a panel to study the issue.

So it was again Monday when the Committee to Study the Structure and Operations of the Nevada Legislature suggested a citizens commission be formed to examine lawmaker pay and the possibility of annual sessions.

Don't hold your breath waiting for specific proposals. Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Las Vegas, will meet with legislative staff to direct the drafting of bills or resolutions to create the commission. Assuming the 2013 Legislature passes the enabling legislation (and there's no reason to believe it won't), the committee's recommendations would be forwarded to the 2015 Legislature. Any changes to legislative pay or frequency of sessions would require voter approval of a constitutional amendment - which couldn't happen sooner than November 2018.

"We aren't going to do anything terrible that can be hung around our necks," said Mr. Segerblom, who is vacating his Assembly seat this year to run for Senate District 3.

Make no mistake, lawmakers don't collect much salary for their work every other year. Under the Nevada Constitution, they get about $146 per day, but for only the first 60 days of each 120-day regular session. That amounts to $8,777 for their four-plus months in Carson City. They also collect living allowances that can boost their total compensation to nearly $25,000, although not all lawmakers request that much.

But Nevada's not alone in paying lawmakers very little. New Mexico, Utah and Texas are in the same neighborhood.

If this were a crisis, no one would run for the Legislature. But there's never a shortage of candidates, because political power tends to create employment opportunities where none previously existed. Nevada lawmakers of both major parties routinely cash in on their offices to upgrade their lifestyles.

Voters in 2006 turned down a proposal to double lawmakers' salaries, with just 29 percent in favor. They didn't believe they'd get improved results in exchange for all that extra pay. Is it too much to ask lawmakers to show leadership and a willingness to address major policy problems in the state? Pay raises should reward performance.

Instead of creating another study commission and dragging the issue out over the rest of this decade, let's see lawmakers just ask for what they want. Let's see them debate the issue and put forward their own proposals for pay raises and annual sessions, instead of wasting the valuable time of citizens and legislative staff. Let's see them earn the money.

If they don't have the courage to do that much, their ideas don't have a snowball's chance in Hades to begin with.