How legislative pay affects legislative pork 

Having written about pork in today's column, I am very surprised by the results in this new study from the University of Rochester. After carefully studying more than 100,000 bills in 13 state legislatures, it finds that low-pay legislatures in which legislators work part-time produce less pork and better governance.

Less surprising is the finding that one-party states are more likely to see massive pork infusions in each year's legislation.

The research found that the larger the majority party's control, the more parochial legislation a state produced. When the majority edge was less than 20 percent of seats, legislators typically devoted only 5 to 15 percent of bills to district legislation. When the majority edge was 75 to 25 percent, fully one-third to one-half of bills were local. With a century-long perspective, this relationship between party control and lawmaking holds true "both in the one-party Democratic states that once characterized the South and in the once-Republican (and, more recently, Democratic-dominated) states of the North," the authors write. And it holds true for historical as well as contemporary sessions, they add.

Along with one-party dominance, higher lawmaker salaries are linked to policies targeted to a particular local interest, the study of 13 states reveals. The effect of more lucrative pay is surprising, Gamm points out, because good government advocates have long argued that professionalizing state legislatures - increasing the length of legislative sessions and providing hefty salaries - would give lawmakers the time and financial freedom needed to focus on broad legislation, bills that often require study and expertise to understand and coalition building to pass.

One of the study's authors theorizes that higher pay gives legislators an incentive to hang on to their jobs at all cost, thus spawning more parochial pork projects. The slight irony here: the study itself is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

About The Author

David Freddoso

David Freddoso came to the Washington Examiner in June 2009, after serving for nearly two years as a Capitol Hill-based staff reporter for National Review Online. Before writing his New York Times bestselling book, The Case Against Barack Obama, he spent three years assisting Robert Novak, the legendary Washington... more
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