Roper: Vermont does not need or want a full time, professional legislature

If you want more diverse representation, shorten the session.

NOT Vermont.

by Rob Roper

There is an old joke around the Vermont State House that says the only people who serve are those who need $10K and those who don’t need $10K. It highlights a real problem that our legislature is made up disproportionately of retirees, who could use an extra ten grand to help pay their property taxes, and wealthy “trust funders,” who just toss their legislative pay on the pile with the rest of it. The other category that the joke misses is full time activists whose employers essentially pay them to be elected lobbyists for their particular special interest. For them the $10 grand (actually closer to $12,000) is just a taxpayer funded year-end bonus.

I do sympathize with the dilemma that serving in Montpelier is not well compensated. I do agree that we would be much better off as a state if more people who worked for a living – as in those who can’t take four-and-a-half months off every year because they have jobs – could participate. Do the folks who do serve today deserve more than they currently receive? Probably. However….

We do not want, nor does Vermont need a full time, professional political class. These people are a big enough menace as it is with the time and resources they already have.

Instead of paying our elected lawmakers more money, what we really should do is decrease the time commitment. Instead of forcing folks to huddle under the Golden Dome from January to mid-May (or beyond) every year, how about we take a page out of Virginia’s constitution and do thirty calendar days in odd years and sixty in even years. Certainly, if a state of over 8.5 million people with an annual budget of $75 billion can wrap things up in two months/one month, Vermont having to manage just 640,000 people shouldn’t even need that long to parcel out a mere $8 billion.

Or, looking at states of similar population to Vermont, Wyoming meets for just forty days in the odd years and twenty in the even years. This is how “citizen legislatures” are supposed to operate.

But here in Vermont, S.39, An act relating to compensation and benefits for members of the Vermont General Assembly, comes before the full senate for a vote this week.

Some of the things this bill does: It nearly doubles the weekly salary of a rank-and-file legislator to $1,210, or just over $19,000 for sixteen four-day weeks. Over the rest of the year when not in session, and this is an entirely new thing, they will get paid “an amount equal to one-fifth of the annually adjusted weekly compensation. That’s another $242 a week or $8,712. So, we’re up to about $28,000 per year.

Also new is health insurance benefits provided through the state, stipends for childcare and/or elder care of up to $1600, and new rules around per diem meal ($67 per day), travel, and lodging ($127 per night) reimbursements that make legal all the little cheats legislators had to pull on the sly to pocket the cash while secretly carpooling and brown bagging their lunches.

According to the Joint Fiscal Office, the cost to the taxpayer of all these new benefits, when they fully kick in, will be $4,759,000 annually by 2026. That’s an additional $26,439 per legislator. No, it’s not going to get you on a Forbes list, but it’s getting to a point where you could get by not doing much of anything else, which is their point – but misses the point of having people in office who also hold real jobs.

Even more concerning than the concrete changes wrought by S.39 is the “Working Group” it establishes to look into things like, whether even more supplemental compensation should be provided to members who hold leadership positions, including caucus leaders and committee chairs. It will consider adding caucus staff and possibly allowing members to hire at public expense their own personal staff. And if, just maybe, the legislature should meet year-round.

Again, Vermont is a state of 640,000 people with a (temporarily oversized with federal bailout money) budget of $8 billion. There are twenty-five U.S. cities bigger than we are. Rather than give these people a raise we should fire them all and elect a mayor and a council of a dozen or so individuals to manage the place.

We have a small population, a small geographic footprint, and a small economy. But we do have some things that are bigger here than anywhere else in the United States, bar none: political egos.

And that is what S.39 is really about: feeding those political egos. The folks running the show in Montpelier feel like they are saving the world and deserve all the trappings that go with that mighty calling. What’s more, it shouldn’t be expected of them that their talents be distracted by other mundane tasks such as other gainful employment. They want to be a full-time, full-pay class of political elites who do nothing but figure out ways to meddle in the lives everyone else 24/7/365.

Nope. No thanks!

Instead, if we shorten the legislative session to sixty days in year one and thirty days in year two we can not only save money, but attract candidates for office who can hold full time jobs outside of the legislature, are focused on public service rather than public employment (there is a difference), and due to time constraints if nothing else, will have to focus on the fundamentals of managing key elements of state government and not the latest cause celeb coming out of California. That sounds like much better deal to me.

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Rob Roper is a freelance writer who has been involved with Vermont politics and policy for over 20 years. This article reprinted with permission from Behind the Lines: Rob Roper on Vermont Politics,

Categories: Commentary

14 replies »

  1. I could not agree more with this post. I’d only add that since the people of Vermont are the ones paying the bill for their egos….WE should get to vote on when raises are given. At what other job (besides the Federal version of these egos) does the employee get to give themselves raises and benefits. I also agree that the session should be shortened – it would limit the harm this bunch can do. My question is – how do the citizens of Vermont obtain the control to be able to make these changes? I love the idea of voting them all out and creating a new way of governing the state. But truly….this self serving insanity has to stop.

  2. While we the people certainly do not require or want a full-time legislature, (the part-time legislature itself is more than questionable at this point) some of these people are truly either mentally unstable or Marxist devotees now thoroughly intoxicated with their self-imposed “power” that they believe they can wield upon us. Do you really believe these legislators WANT to attract diversity?? They would prefer to spend time in a Turkish prison.

    Just wait until Governor Ponytail is crowned. May God help us. And should He not? It will be because we brought it all down upon us ourselves, and even in the face of tyranny we remain foolish enough to still continue to do nothing here to demolish it and extinguish it for all of eternity.

    We are at the precipice of a fall of a modern-era Roman Empire scenario – way ahead of schedule. We are living amidst the times Thomas Jefferson et al warned us to be prepared for. We are mired in muck neck-deep within a swamp that we all aided in creating & nourishing through apathy, disinterest, and ignorance. Will we now sink or swim out? The public servants are betting on our inability to have learned how to swim.

  3. I completely agree with you, the egos of our legislatures are bigger than the state. How they can assume that they are worth what they are purposing while the rest of us just try to get buy is ridiculous! I am assuming they want to pad their pockets to make sure they can afford electric cars and heat pumps and to hell with us peons under them. I am sick of hearing how many homes and millions of dollars our socialist Senator has and having the gall to say he has a house and camp in this state, like most everyone else in this state, while omitting the townhouse out of state that he has. I guess he doesn’t really see the struggle that represents most of the state to get even one home and keep it! That is socialism at its best, give the peons just enough to keep them alive and working for them. I think it is time for new representation of the people in this state because they sure as hell are not doing it now!

  4. Since before COVID, the VT legislature has had “meetings” all summer and the party in majority essentially functions currently as a full-time legislature. The “adjournment” seems to be a mere formality…and a fraud.

  5. Vermont has managed to make itself a behemouth welfare State. The legislature, the elected officials, the bureaucrats, the non-profits, and the NGO’s being the biggest welfare recipients of all. “Welfare programs are typically funded by taxpayers and allow people to cope with financial stress during rough periods of their lives.” The above mentioned groups are forever claiming financial stress and rough periods for us and reward themselves with our money. Now that the USA is financially collapsing, they are scrambling for every last dime to steal with lawfare and convert it to tangible assets for them. They are liars, deceivers and thieves.

  6. The experiment to convene a yearly meeting of the General Assembly should be declared a failure, and they should go back to meeting every other year as they did prior to 1967. I would also like to see us revert to one Representative per town, and two Senators per County, as Chittenden Co. holds way too much sway over the rest of the state. (JMO)

  7. This state is completely out of control!! They are drunk on free money that will be ending this year. They cannot think further than the end of their nose. All during covid they met in secret on zoom and passed laws that none of us were aware of. They continued to collect their per diems which is essentially fraud. They also voted themselves a perpetual pay raise. We never voted on it!!
    We have WAY to many issues in this state that need immediate attention. Think no fire fighters in Colchester for a population of 17000 people. Yet they continue building and building housing that no one can afford. This also means no paramedics and limited EMT’s. Our dispatchers are no longer in the towns they serve and have no clue in giving directions to an emergency. This should be disturbing to ALL taxpayers. We also have no law enforcement!
    What are they going to do when taxpayers stop paying their taxes in an act of civil disobedience? There will be a revolt of the masses!! I believe that none of the elected in Montpelier should get benefits or an increase of their pay for doing their civic duty!! They should also be having to put up their itemized statements that show they actually slept in a hotel and ate at a restaurant in order to get said reimbursement! How’s that for accountability?

  8. The New York legislators recently voted themselves a 29% raise. Salary is now highest paid in the nation. 142,000 per year plus per diem. There are about 140 legislators in NY. I would recommend Vermont NEVER follows New York’s example.

  9. Giving legislators a full year for legislative malpractice would be a death knell for Vermont’s population. More time for more programs at higher cost to the taxpayers! It is little but a device for chasing rational people out of state.

  10. Enough is enough. All of this will be null and void IF we simply secede from the US empire. It’s our right to do so as it is like no other state besides Texas. We can be the Switzerland 🇨🇭of North America 🇺🇸 🇨🇦 and be an honorable people once again. Shut these freaks out while we still can. Don’t give them one thin dime. The Second Vermont Republic is in its 3rd trimester ready to pop. The time is right for the 2VR.

  11. They are SO arrogant. We’d be so much better off if they didn’t do anything! (Although I think the Republicans could come up with some good ideas if they weren’t fighting off every stupid idea that the democrats and progressives come up with.) They DO NOT deserve a raise, they deserve less than whatever they get now. How is it legal for them to give themselves these raises and benefits?

  12. It matters not what the voter nor the taxpayer wants- nor what Vermont’s constitution says. All that matters to this legislature is personal enrichment of the monetary kind and increased power over their minions. Democrats and Progressives seek power- and this pay increase brings them power and money, to keep the status quo in state government.
    A common theme in the comments to this report is the unabashed hubris of this batch of legislators- as they act on their unstated goal of transforming Vermont into a totalitarian state. S.39 is definitely repugnant to the taxpayer and Vermont’s constitution, a self-serving bill to enhance the powers of the legislative body- and their wallets. phil scott would be wise to veto this trash bill, forcing the legislature to over-ride his veto to collect their ill-gotten dollars.