Like It or Not: Lawmaker raises

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Opinion piece by Jessica Szilagyi

How would you celebrate if I told you, you deserved a 72 percent raise?

Georgia legislators are entertaining the possibilities after a committee determined that our state lawmakers should get a hefty raise - to the tune of an extra $12,000 a year.

Sounds pretty great. For them, not us. It figures, since the committee was appointed by lawmakers:  Governor Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, and Speaker David Ralston.

Our legislators currently earn a little more than $17,000 for roughly three months of legislative work - that's more than $5,700 per month plus mileage reimbursements. The raise would bring them to almost $30,000 - or a staggering $10,000 a month!

Sure, some of them work when they're not in session - attending ribbon cuttings, returning e-mails - you know, shaking hands and kissing babies. They go to committee hearings and do other legislative work, and they get per diem reimbursements that sometimes total thousands of dollars.

If a legislator chairs a committee, they get extra money for that, too. And don't forget about the retirement benefits after 8 years of service, plus all the things they can chalk up to 'campaign expenses.'

Proponents of lawmaker raises say the recommendation doesn't go far enough -- that the salary for state legislators should be equal to the median household income, like they do it in Alabama, so that elected office isn't just left to the wealthy and the retired folks who don't have to worry about leaving a regular job 3 months a year.

But public service is just that...SERVICE. And if you increase the salary the median income, legislators are going to think this is a full-time job - and that's the last thing we need.

In New Mexico, they don't get a salary at all - only a per diem reimbursement totaling about $7,000 a year. The states that pay hefty salaries, like Michigan, Illinois, and California? We don't have enough time to list all the reasons we don't want Georgia to be like them.

And I think they're forgetting one of the most important questions: Where is this money going to come from? Are they going to raise our taxes so they can have more money?

What about teachers, and law enforcement, and failing hospitals in our state's rural communities?  Are lawmakers really so self-centered that they'd put themselves above those public priorities?

We have a lot of affairs to get in order before we start a conversation about paying politicians more money. Besides, if we pay them a salary that's too comfy, they'll never leave.

They say 'You get what you pay for,' but do any of us really want to pay for more government?

DISCLAIMER: This segment represents the views of the commentator and not necessarily those of FOX 5 Atlanta.