March 7, 2011 07:30 AM
The most recent census data shows that Missouri has gained far less population than many other states, and that it has grown and contracted unevenly. These facts have several repercussions: we will certainly lose some of our share of Federal funding for things like transportation and community policing; we will definitely lose a Missouri vote in the US House of Representatives; and some of us will be represented by new faces in the Missouri General Assembly as those district lines are redrawn to reflect the shifts.
The process of redrawing the lines of representation, both at the federal and state level, is called redistricting. It is a tedious process whereby people with sophisticated mapping software draw lines in an attempt to make each of the districts across Missouri have an equal number of constituents. It becomes even more complicated due to certain areas of the state having a population shift, such as people moving to the suburbs or even further out of metropolitan areas to create new suburbs.
I am struck by how different the redistricting process is approached for representation in the federal government and the state government. Missouri failed to grow as fast as states like Texas, Florida, and Georgia, so we will lose a representative in Congress. Yet, while our Congressional delegation loses a member, our state government will still have the same number of representatives.
Off the top of my head, the Missouri House of Representatives has 163 members, the fourth largest number in the country. By comparison, the Michigan House, a legislative body of a much more populous state, has only 110 members. The House in neighboring Kansas has 125 members. The Illinois House has 118 members. The Kentucky House has 100 members. The California Assembly, the equivalent of our House, makes do with only 80 members for a population 7 times larger than ours.
The 2010 census data showed Texas, which has a lower House with 150 members, had a large gain in population during past decade and will be awarded four additional Congressional seats, yet this did not spark a movement in Texas to create a larger legislature. I believe that the disappointing Census numbers and the consequent loss of a federal House seat should suggest a question to Missouri: why must we have such a big state government?
Politicians spend a great deal of time talking about reducing the size of government. A true reduction in the size of government should begin with a reduction of the number of politicians. Currently, a petition has been filed to place a proposed amendment to the Constitution of the State of Missouri on the ballot in November of 2012, reducing the size of the Missouri House of Representatives from 163 members to 103 members.
Reducing the size of the Missouri House will not only make Missouri's government more efficient, it will save millions of dollars every year. Members of the Missouri House are currently paid $30,000 per year, plus a daily per diem when in Jefferson City and travel expenses. Here is the arithmetic: reducing the number of representatives by 60 will result in an immediate savings of over $1.8 million dollars. A reduction in the number of representatives will also result in a reduction of staff members and benefit obligations. Taxpayers could see a savings between $3 to $5 million dollars per year. The Republican State Auditor, Thomas Schweich, estimates the savings to be at least $4.7 million annually. Mr. Schweich’s numbers will be reflected on the ballot should voters have the opportunity to have their voices heard on this important issue.
The ballot initiative to reduce the size of the Missouri House really isn’t a partisan issue. I confidently expect howls from incumbents of all political stripes and cheers from most everybody else. To some, this will be about their jobs. To me, this is a matter of having a more affordable state government. If you agree, I urge you to sign the petition to have this important change in our state government presented to voters in November of 2012.
Susan Montee serves as chairwoman of the Missouri Democratic Party. She is formerly the Missouri State Auditor.