05.03.08

AAS Story Highlights Only Craddick Foes In Article

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, The Lege at 11:14 am by wcnews

This article from yesterday’s AAS, For some House hires, ‘full time’ isn’t, about members of the Texas House of Representatives keeping staff on the payroll full time, while paying them very little, tries to make it seem as if something nefarious is going on.

Lawyer Elizabeth Fazio is a full-time student in Denver, Colo., who works part time for accounting giant KPMG. She’s also listed on the Texas House of Representatives’ payroll as a full-time employee.

Former state Rep. Zeb Zbranek, who left office in 2003 after 10 years, hired on as a part-time state worker the same day he stopped being an elected official. He soon went full time.

Another former lawmaker, Miguel Wise, has a law practice in South Texas but has been on the state payroll since October as a full-time legislative staffer.

In each case, the House members who employ them say their skills are invaluable. Yet these workers — and at least a dozen more like them — are paid little: $150 to $300 a month.

If the numbers don’t seem to compute, add this to the equation: Only regular, full-time state workers are eligible for health insurance, pension and other benefits.

Capitol insiders say that hiring employees as full-time workers while paying them part-time salaries is a longstanding practice at the Legislature, a way to get benefits for workers who otherwise would not qualify for them.

It costs taxpayers a minimum of $284 a month for health insurance for a full-time worker, according to calculations from the Employees Retirement System of Texas. And it costs much more to pay higher retirement benefits that the additional years of service can bring.

Even so, some lawmakers argue that the practice is legal and that any questions about it are off-base. Under House rules, each lawmaker is allowed to hire whom they want on whatever schedule they want. Thirty-three of the House’s approximately 700 employees make less than $600 a month — the amount lawmakers earn, according to House payroll records for February.

Who are the other 30 House employees? And why are only Craddick opponents mentioned in this article? Using the infamous unnamed “capitol insiders” as a source also raises questions.

House Speaker Tom Craddick said he has ordered the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee and the state attorney general to look into the practice. Last week, subpoenas went to House officials for personnel records as part of a preliminary investigation by the Travis County district attorney’s office.

“If some legislators are paying employees with taxpayer dollars who are performing little or no work, that is an egregious misuse of state money,” Craddick said in a statement to the American-Statesman. “It must be stopped immediately and with full restitution made.”

Lawmakers who have made such hires defend them, saying it is difficult to hire good workers for a part-time Legislature, which meets only five months every other year. Furthermore, they said, they have limited budgets with which to hire professional staff.

Excuse me, Mr. Speaker, you’re fake outrage is showing. By only using three examples in the story, who are all opponents of Speaker Craddick, makes this seem all the more likely:

At least one lawmaker chalked up the inquiries to House politics, a charge Craddick’s office denies.

Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who hired Fazio, challenged Craddick’s leadership a year ago as part of a power play that continues now with several announced candidates to unseat him. The issues concerning the employees are likely to fuel that dispute.

“If there’s a target here, it’s me because of the issues I’ve had with the leadership,” Cook said, referring to Craddick. ” This is generated by one source and one source only, and that has to have come in a whisper from the speaker’s office.

As stated in the comments the way Texas’ legislature works has a lot to do with this.

The main reason the Texas Legislature can’t get much done is that they’re mandated to cram two years worth of planning, forecasts and legislation into 5 months. The system is archaic and does not acknowledge that government, and its ancillary, politics, runs around the year, whether or not the Lege is in session.

So paying people minimal amounts to keep them as advisers during those few months that anything can be done doesn’t strike me as out of scale. Think of it as keeping an attorney on retainer. And I don’t haven’t seen many that would work for that little.

The problem isn’t that people are on the public payroll and only working a little, because they only get paid a little. The problem is that this state’s antiquated legislative system doesn’t allow for professional advisers.

Let’s face it: unless you can afford to quit work for 5 or 6 months, then maybe take another one or two off at the Governor’s whim, you can’t be a legislator in this state.

This story should be about why Texas’ political system almost mandates this practice. Good help is hard to find, and under the current system, almost impossible to keep.

Thus the long-standing practice.

This has been going on for many years, and we’re just now, with the Speaker’s job on the line, finding out about this?  Wanting full-time results from a part-time funded legislature – meaning not just the legislators but committees and staff – allows little, if any, continuity and this kind of creative staffing.

3 Comments »

  1. Eye on Williamson » Burnam Calls Craddick, Phillips To Account said,

    May 17, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    [...] yes, what about the other 33? BOR is also reporting on this too, Rep. Burnam Asks for Impartial Investigation. They are focusing [...]

  2. Eye on Williamson » Ghost Worker Flap Escalates said,

    May 20, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    [...] subject of the very news article that was fed to the AAS by “capitol insiders”.  And who deemed them arbiters of what’s [...]

  3. Eye on Williamson » A Texas Myth: The Citizen Legislator said,

    May 28, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    [...] around the Texas Legislature that point out structural weaknesses in how we fund it. Tales of “ghost workers”, spouses being paid with campaign funds, and legislators using campaign funds to pay off credit [...]

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