Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Cost of Legislative Egos

Story here about the musical-offices game being played out in the State capitol.

Nevermind all that jazz about 'who gets what office.' Here are the parts you should think about.

When Risser first took office more than 50 years ago, the Legislature only met six months out of the year. Lawmakers had only a desk on the chamber floor, no office. Mail was delivered to them through a locked slot in their desks. If someone needed to reach them by phone, a message was left with the Senate clerk.

There was no legislative staff, only a pool of secretaries with requests completed on the basis of seniority.

Those WERE, actually, the good old days.

Risser was elected co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee at the start of his second two-year term in office. These days, the position comes with a third-floor office and two additional staffers. In 1959, it came with a part-time secretary, “which still was very nice,” Risser says.

Still, he and other lawmakers wanted their own offices.

We decided — those of us in power — that by running out the agencies we could all have offices,” Risser says. “The Republicans wanted offices, too, so we began working together.”

Maybe 'conspiring' is a better term than 'working,' Freddie.

Risser soon ran into the same problem that had been plaguing the Capitol since the 1920s. There simply wasn’t enough space at the Capitol to fit all the state agencies and constitutional officers that wanted to be there, let alone make room for lawmakers. One early solution was the construction of the state office building at 1 W. Wilson St. in 1931.

Over the next 30 years, the Wilson Street building was expanded twice, as the Banking Department, Conservation Commission, Board of Health, Department of Motor Vehicles, Public Service Commission and other agencies were pushed out of the Capitol.

When the third and final wing of the Wilson Street building was completed in 1959, the Department of Public Welfare left the Capitol for good. The Department of Agriculture and the Insurance Department soon got the boot, too, following the purchase of land on Sheboygan Avenue just off University Avenue. The site is now home to the Division of Motor Vehicles

You get the picture. Senate and Assembly types just kept taking more and more space in the Capitol, and taxpayers paid for more and more buildings for more and more State agencies...

Oh, yes--you paid. Over and over and over and over....

The most recent exodus occurred in 2001 with the completion of the Risser Justice Center and Law Library. Located a block from the Capitol, it is named for the four generations of Risser family lawmakers, and is home to the Department of Justice and the offices of the Supreme Court justices.

“Had some of us left office, there would have been no continuity with the plan,” Risser says. “I don’t want to use the word bribe, but we had to fight with some of these agencies and offices to get them out. It was tough.”

We'll use the word "bribery", Freddie. You took taxpayer money and waved it around to satisfy your ego (gee, a whole office building named for your family!!) and that of the other Leggies.

Somehow, Freddie, I don't think that should be viewed as 'an accomplishment.'

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