If New York had adopted a reasonable term-limits law back in the ’70s — say, limiting legislative service to no more than six terms in either house, or a total of 20 years combined — Silver’s legislative career would’ve ended decades ago.
Term limits would also strike at a problem more pervasive in Albany than corruption: legislative careerism. The longer they serve, the more many Assembly and Senate members naturally seek to preserve their positions.
This, combined with the power of legislative leaders, gives rise to an insular culture that makes individual lawmakers overly reluctant to advance new ideas, challenge entrenched special interests or demand higher ethical standards.
To combat careerism and empower rank-and-file members, term limits should be introduced, along with three other changes:
- Close the taxpayer-guaranteed (and longevity-rewarding) defined-benefit public pension for legislators and other elected officials; instead, offer them a defined-contribution plan, such as the one sponsored by the State University of New York.
- Eliminate the leader-controlled pay stipends now received by three-quarters of legislators.
- Equalize members’ staff budgets.
Of course, there will never be a way to outlaw greed and dishonesty. Term limits alone certainly won’t do it; three term-limited, full-time state senators in California recently became faced criminal charges in the past two years.
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