Last week, The Hanging Shad reported that despite losing 15 seats in the last election cycle (14 in the November elections and one in the set of special elections last month), the state House Democrats increased its number of staff members. A look at the bigger picture tells the same story but more starkly. Since 2001, the state legislature has increased its number of staff by 33 percent despite the obvious fact that the number of legislators stayed the same.
Spending in every aspect of state government has come under increased scrutiny since the state has gotten itself into a nearly $4 billion budget deficit. One area that has seen unprecedented growth is the General Assembly itself. In 2001, the legislature appropriated funds for 333 employees. In 2011, the number of employees burgeoned to 445 to support the same 187 legislators (151 House members, 36 in the Senate)—an increase of 33 percent. One could certainly question whether the legislature is passing 33-percent better laws. So why the huge increase?
As for funding for the General Assembly itself, in 2001 its budget was about $54 million. In 2011, it’s about $65 million—an increase of about 20 percent. The budget increase is more understandable because workers participate in cost-of-living increases as well as merit increases when they are budgeted. But an $11 million increase over 10 years is still a pretty big amount—more than $1 million a year. However, longevity on the job doesn’t explain the substantial increase in the number of employees.
Full disclosure: I was an employee of the legislature for more than five years. Hired to fill an existing, vacant, senior staff position with the Senate Democrats, I enjoyed a competitive salary and of course, very generous benefits.