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ASK THE EXPERTS

Working for residents in legislature

POSTED: March 17, 2010 4:00 a.m.

For those who can’t come to Atlanta to see first-hand how the state legislature operates, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain how business works under the Gold Dome. 

  

The nation’s 50 state legislatures may be similarly structured, but differ vastly in how they operate.

  

In Georgia, the legislative branch is served by a citizen legislature, made up primarily of citizens who have a full-time occupation other than being a lawmaker.

  

Our legislature is part-time, while many other states operate on a full-time basis, where a senator and representative’s sole job is to serve in their elected capacity.

  

Many of Georgia’s 56 state senators own their own businesses, as I do. 

  

Others are doctors, veterinarians, lawyers, pilots and dentists. These legislators work hard to balance their private business with serving the needs of their constituents. Based on the 2000 census, each state senator serves around 146,000 people. 

  

We make the best use of limited resources to serve this amount of people. In the State Senate, one administrative assistant is assigned to two senators. 

  

They handle much more than administrative duties; legislative assistants are responsible for every piece of legislation between their two senators, organize committee meetings for chairman and resolve all constituent requests, which can come in by the hundreds on a daily basis.

  

Senators who chair a committee get one aide to assist their office only for the three our four months we are in legislative session.

  

State lawmakers do not have district offices with paid staff; we typically utilize our personal businesses to conduct legislative work.           

  

The state constitution requires us to be in session up to 40 legislative days. 

  

The distinction here is that these are not consecutive days; we are typically in session three to four days a week, not counting those weeks that we suspend legislative action to allow for budget meetings or other business.

  

We usually complete our work in early to mid April. This year is a little bit different due to our budget situation.

  

Continually declining revenues are forcing us to constantly revise our budget so that we can balance spending through the rest of the year.

  

Passing a balanced budget is our sole constitutional obligation. By law, the state cannot run a deficit, meaning we can’t spend more money than we have. 

  

We live within our means and operate the state based on what revenues we receive, primarily from sales and income taxes.

  

It’s interesting to note that many states with worse budget situations than ours have a full time legislature, such as California, New York and New Jersey. 

  

Though we officially meet for only 40 legislative days, we are expected to represent our constituents 365 days a year.

  

During the months we’re not in session, we continue meeting with constituents, working on legislation and attending study committees or policy meetings to prepare for the next session.  

  

The state’s budget crisis forces lawmakers to make some tough decisions. 

  

Yet while we’re asking all state entities to help share the burden of budget cuts, we’re also working to find internal efficiencies and spending cuts.

  

Legislators have been furloughed 11 days this fiscal year, and our staff has taken the same three furlough days required of all state employees.

  

Despite having taken these furlough days, we continue to work from home and on the road for our people.

  

Again, we do our best to operate on as little as possible. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania and New York make over $79,000 a year. California state legislators make over $95,000. In Georgia, our state lawmakers are paid $17,000 a year. Making money is not our focus; we’re here to represent our people.

  

Meeting the needs of Georgia’s more than 9 million citizens with limited resources is a daily challenge.

  

It’s a challenge that first inspired me to enter public service. After working at the local party level for 15 years, my passion for public service led me to the State Senate.

  

Here, I’m dedicated to working on behalf of conservative Republican principles that influence the direction of our state toward positive growth and securing our freedoms for the next generation. 

  

I’m pleased that so many of my constituents reach out to my office for assistance. I especially enjoy the opportunities when I can help solve a constituent’s issue.

  

While our state government must be increasingly trimmed back, I’m dedicated to ensuring that my service to you is not affected in the slightest. The role of a state legislator is to represent constituents’ interests in developing favorable public policy to govern our state.

  

For six years, it has been my honor to serve the people of the 51st Senate District in this capacity, and I look forward to continuing my service on your behalf.      

  

Sen. Chip Pearson can be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at chip.pearson@senate.ga.gov.

 

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