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Don't focus on legislators' pay

Many newspapers this week will run stories about which legislators are still getting their paychecks despite the government shutdown, and how horrible that is, and how it should be stopped. Let me make the contrarian, unexpected and amazingly ill-timed argument that not only should they continue to get paid, we should think about giving them raises when the economy recovers.

So here is that tidbit of news: our own legislators, Sen. Gretchen Hoffman and Rep. Mark Murdock, Republicans from Vergas and Ottertail, respectively, are still getting paid their legislative salaries. That's not out of the ordinary: 138 legislators out of 200 were accepting pay as of early this week.

Legislators typically get paid year round, whether they're in session or not. They make $30,140 annually.

If you're angry about the shutdown, or just frustrated with state governement in general, you probably think legislators should forfeit this money. Give me a chance to convince you they shouldn't.

First, at this time of year, legislators would probably be attending parades and making a few speeches, but otherwise back to life as normal for them. Just because the state is shut down doesn't mean they're not working. I would suggest right now they're working harder than just about any other July. And I'm sure while they're getting plenty of support from consituents, they're probably taking a great deal of abuse, too. They're earning their money right now.

Second, it's not any one person's fault the government is shut down. There are two competing ideologies clashing here, and no single person seems capable of settling it. I would bet that just about every member of the House and Senate who had a magic button to end the shutdown would have pressed that button by now. But there's no button. No one person can stop it. The Republican leaders are accountable to the rank and file. The governor is accountable to people in his party.

Third, part of the problem with politics today is we are only getting the more radical elements in each party being sent to represent us. Why would that be? I've always been skeptical of people who were so anxious to give up lucrative and successful private sector businesses or jobs in order to take a huge pay cut to go to St. Paul or Washington. Who is willing to do that? The "true believers." Those who think their ideology is the end-all-be-all, and their opponent is evil incarnate. What do we expect when we elect the "true believers"? Scorched-earth politics. And that's what we're getting. Blame us, not them. We knew what we were getting.

This, by the way, isn't an indictment of our own legislators or our current governor -- but an overall observation about all levels of government right now.

So if you're not already at your boiling point, let me explain why we should raise legislator pay. If we have any chance of attracting that business owner or practical leader, $30,000 probably won't get it done.

We wouldn't dream of putting someone in charge of a $1 million budget at a local business and expect to pay them $30,000. So why do we expect we can put him or her in charge of a $30 billion budget and pay him or her $30,000?

No one with actual experience running a budget a fraction of that size would ever leave in order to expose themselves and their families to personal attacks, all in the pursuit of a job that pays them so little.

Yes, many politicians also get a per diem, a pension or other perks like full health care. But it's nothing compared to their likely worth in the private sector.

I realize few people are in the mood to read this right now, but I've never shied away from taking a contrarian stand, and I won't now. After all, if a politician, such as Gov. Dayton, said they weren't going to accept their government salary during the shutdown, are you suddenly happy with them instead of still frustrated?

I didn't think so.

The Pioneer Journal editorial represents the collective view of the editorial board. Today's editorial was written by Steve Schulz, editor and publisher.