A Brief Case for Giving Virginia Legislators a Raise

by Gordon C. Morse

I thought it would be worthwhile to pursue further the subject of legislative compensation in Virginia. A report I’ve  referenced before is dated December 1998 – 25 years ago – and offers the following rationale for increasing the amount paid to Virginia lawmakers holding these posts, attending the annual legislative sessions and all that pertains thereto: 

The significant increase in the time required for members of the General Assembly to carry out their responsibilities, to our way of thinking, requires an increase in compensation and in per diem allowances. In addition to the 90 days required of a legislator for the two sessions of the General Assembly, the time a legislator has to devote to attending meetings of committees, subcommittees and study commissions has increased sharply. Those members of the General Assembly who responded to our questionnaire indicated that they spent from between 30 and 60 days on legislative duties between the sessions of the General Assembly. 

Moreover, a legislator is expected to keep in touch with his constituents and to answer inquiries from them. While the performance of this duty is time-consuming, nevertheless it is necessary for a legislator to keep in touch with the views of those he represents, and to maintain a relationship with them which will reveal their desires and concerns.

There are any number of metrics and tables and summaries and all that in the report. Things sometimes get stashed away casually in the Commonwealth, but I am working on the optimistic belief that other people and/or institutions retained a copy. Legislative demands have increased in the intervening years, along with the willingness of elected lawmakers to make this their primary work in life. The implications of that, undoubtedly, will cause some of the newer members to wonder why the General Assembly is organized the way it is, as well as seed an interest in reform. Others will resist this impulse and I would be inclined to agree with them, that a full-time legislature would be unlikely to produce an improvement in representative democracy. 

Former Gov. Jerry Baliles co-chaired the “Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Legislative Compensation” along with former Gov. Linwood Holton. It was submitted to the Speaker of the House of Delegates and members of the Joint Rules Committee. The study committee’s membership also included: Ray Boone, the publisher the Richmond Free Press; Emmitt Carlton, president of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP; Cliff Cutchins, retired chairman of the board, Sovran Financial Corporation, Walter Cragie, First Union Capital Markets, Bobbie Kilberg, president of the Northern Virginia Technology Council; Tom Morris, president of Emory and Henry College, John Munford, retired vice-chair of Union Camp; Hugh Stallard, president and CEO Bell Atlantic-Virginia, Inc.; Patricia M. Woolsey, chair of the board of the Fairfax Economic Development Authority; and Bill Wood, executive director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. 

A noble and certainly eclectic collection of personalities, I’d say. Two of them employed me at different times, so that would argue for their good sense, right? 

I sigh at the name of Bill Wood. He pitched at Duke University and so baseball metaphors came naturally to him. “Too long in the windup,” he would say about a piece of commentary, when he edited the editorial page of the Virginian-Pilot. “Just pitch the ball.”  Good advice from a good heart.  

The report is solid and could easily work at a baseline of sorts. It needs to be updated, but the logic of paying people “credible compensation” for their public service remains sound and persuasive.   

Gordon C. Morse served in the administration of Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles.