Op-Ed: Great to See Growing Support to End Legislator Pay Loophole

At the start of the spring session in January of 2019, I filed House Bill 818. It was the second bill I filed as a State Representative. I didn’t think it was anything revolutionary, but commonsense. It sought to close a pretty strange loophole in state law that allowed General Assembly members who resign or retire early to get paid an entire months wages, even if they left office on the first day of the month.

Commonsense, right? In the private sector, if I resigned from a job at the beginning of the month, I wouldn’t expect to be paid for the rest of the month I didn’t work, and it should be the same for legislators.

Like every bill filed in the House, HB 818 was sent to the House Rules Committee for assignment to a subject matter committee. Unfortunately, because of the way things so frequently work in the legislature, my bill was never assigned to a subject matter committee. Instead, it suffered the all too common fate of not making it onto the Speaker’s approved list and has been suffering a slow death in the rules committee.

During the fall Veto Session, as the state was being rocked (and sadly still is…) by almost weekly reports of ethics violations and corruption scandals involving public officials, it seemed like the perfect time to renew the call for HB 818. Particularly when the news broke on October 28, 2019 that Rep. Luis Arroyo had been arrested on federal bribery charges, but he refused to resign from the House until November 1. By delaying his resignation until November 1, he received a full taxpayer funded paycheck for the entire month, nearly $6,000. Despite the obvious need to change state law, HB 818 still wasn’t shown the light of day during veto session.

Since November, now ex-State Senator Martin Sandoval, also facing a federal investigation, used the same tactic as Arroyo and didn’t resign until January 1, 2020. Considering what happened with Arroyo, I wasn’t anticipating a renewed interest from Democrats to curb this obvious problem.

However, I must say it came as a pleasant surprise when I learned that not only does Comptroller Susanna Mendoza now support closing this egregious loophole, State Senator Cristina Castro filed Senate Bill 2456, a strikingly similar proposal to my HB 818. As the saying from Oscar Wilde goes, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

I guess, the Sandoval resignation was the second time charm needed to make ending this loophole a bipartisan issue, but I’m glad to see some Democrat leaders getting on board with the issue and I sincerely hope they are serious. Whether it’s, HB 818, SB 2456 or some other bill, I stand ready to work together to finally get this done. It shouldn’t have taken two corruption resignations to get the ball rolling, but now that it is we can’t squander this opportunity for some good government reform that taxpayers deserve.