The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Opinion

April 28, 2013

‘Double-dipping’ shouldn’t be used to buy influence

The Tuscaloosa News on legislators with state jobs:

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh had it right in the first place. “Double-dipping” ought to be outlawed.

Double-dipping refers to state employees serving as legislators. When Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2010, they pushed through a law that prohibits state employees, including teachers and college administrators, from serving in the Legislature after 2014.

Marsh doesn’t want to backtrack entirely on the double-dipping bill. He just wants to allow the legislators now serving to continue to serve. No additional state employees would be allowed to serve.

The Legislature did good work when it passed the law against double-dipping. The nine state employees now serving as legislators, four Republicans and five Democrats, will have had four years to find new jobs, retire or make other arrangements if they want to continue as legislators.

A law against double-dipping seems like common sense to us. To start with, legislators need copious amounts of time off to conduct their legislative business. That time off is either paid for by the taxpayers as paid leave or is taken off in unpaid leave at the expense of the duties required by their taxpayer funded state job.

More importantly, laws and ethics should prohibit public officials from acting in their own interest. Yet when state employees serve as legislators, it could hardly be avoided.

To sum it up, the Legislature appropriates the money that funds state jobs. It determines how much money will be available to pay state workers and whether a given agency will continue to receive money to fund state jobs. Given that, there is little way that state employees can avoid acting in their own self-interest.

But the real danger is that state jobs will be used to purchase influence in the Legislature. Historically, some “state employees” serving as legislators were merely holding down jobs that were fronts. Their real job is to pump taxpayer money into the state agency or school that employs them. That’s something Alabama doesn’t need.

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