It’s often the case that wisdom is not recognized in its time.
In 1789, Congress proposed a change to the Constitution that would ultimately languish for more than 200 years before being ratified as the 27th Amendment. To wit:
“No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect, until an election of Representatives have intervened.”
This is a very good and wise amendment! It’s also particularly applicable to an upcoming referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot, and it’s our hope that Oswego County voters will choose the side of wisdom.
Referendum No. 1 on Tuesday will ask the following: Shall Oswego County increase the term of office for County Legislator from a two (2) year term of office to a four (4) year term of office?
Our answer is a resounding “no” or at least a mild “not now.”
Oswego County’s 25 Legislators oversee a $210 million annual budget and hundreds of employees. First off: that’s too many Legislators. Cut it in half, folks. Second: that’s a big job for anyone. Proponents of the term extension claim the current two-year terms are too short and it takes nearly that long to simply get up to speed as a newly elected official. Parliamentary procedure, the Legislature’s committee system and the ins-and-outs of the aforementioned eight-figure budget are hefty topics and the motivation to give rookie Legislators a little more breathing room is a noble one — but in this case, misguided.
On its face, the proposal to extend Legislator terms is largely unobjectionable and we have no beef with the reality of four-year terms, should it come to pass. Like members of the House of Representatives, it seems like one campaign has scarcely ended before the next is just around the corner for county Legislators. While that ostensibly should maintain a rigorous system of electoral accountability, for a local politician, that campaigning time is better spent on representing their constituents rather than asking for their vote. If the Oswego County Legislature wishes to make its terms ten years and take that proposal to voters, they have the ability — and voters have the ability to send it back.
Let’s get back to the 27th Amendment for a second and the underlying principle that led to its ratification. The idea of an elected official passing a law to directly benefit themselves is repugnant — we’d all scream bloody murder if news broke of a proposed Chuck Schumer Law, which pays $1 million to all Chuck Schumers in the nation, carried by one Chuck Schumer, D-NY. The Founding Fathers saw the danger in Congress setting its own pay, so they wanted to make sure if lawmakers voted themselves a fat pay raise, they’d have to answer to the electorate before cashing the checks.
Referendum No. 1 flies in the face of the notion that elected officials should not be allowed to vote themselves a benefit without being moderated by the voters. There will be no intervening election, as the 27th Amendment mandates for Congress, between when County Legislators gave themselves two extra years in office and the law taking effect. Oswego County is not strictly bound by the Constitution, especially when it comes to different rules for different specific offices, but to disregard the wisdom of the 27th Amendment is folly.
Whatever benefit is claimed by supporters of Referendum No. 1 is outweighed by the deep philosophical problems it raises regarding a responsible government. We urge our readers to vote no on Nov. 5.