Less is not more. Never. But it might be better.
That's the question Niagara County voters have to answer for themselves as they pull the lever today on a ballot initiative to reduce the size of the Niagara County Legislature from 19 members to 15.
Proponents say the measure will save the county money by eliminating the salaries of the four legislators – a $60,300 savings per year. Opponents say it will reduce the level of representation for county residents as each legislator will have to look after a larger number of incumbents. Each legislator currently serves about 11,000 constituents. If the downsizing goes through, each will have about 14,000 constituents.
I say both arguments are hogwash.
The real savings comes not from the reduction of salaries in the legislature itself, but from the reduction of salaries of friends and loved ones who get themselves plum jobs in government. Instead of 19 people with pet projects trying to find family members and neighbors jobs, there will only be 15 people doing such. The nepotism savings alone could be hundreds of thousands of dollars per year … not to mention the potential savings from having less pet projects to worry about.
Meanwhile, the argument that a smaller legislature will be less responsive to residents needs makes an assumption that the legislature is responsive to your needs. I'm pretty sure we can agree that's a flawed argument. I mean, really, how often do you see your legislator? I'm going to guess you see them every other October when they're on your doorstep telling you what a great job they've done, right?
There's another theory that certain members of the legislature only favor the reduction because they can then reduce the number of seats allocated to Niagara Falls, thereby reducing the Falls' political power … and the number of Democrats in the legislature.
While I could see the benefit of such a power grab, it seems a bit too conspiracy theory for me and I thereby reject it. That said, I would like to see the districts redrawn by some sort of neutral third party when it's time for redistricting. I would also like to win the lottery. Odds are probably about the same. And I don't play the lottery.
Personally, I support the reduction of the legislature and think you should, too. I think the positives of potential savings far outweigh the negatives of unresponsiveness, mainly because I don't buy the argument to begin with.
I'll make it easy on you if you've yet to cast your vote. If you like to save money hold up one hand. If you only see your legislator around election time hold up another hand. If you've got both hands in the air, vote yes to downsize. If you've only got one hand in the air, vote no. And if you have no hands in the air, you've got more money than brains.
A personal side note: This is the first election in about a dozen years where I'm not working as a reporter or commentator election night. I have done so my entire time I've been back in Western New York and had also been a reporter my last two years in Ohio.
I'm not sure how this makes me feel, to be honest. It's weird, that's for sure.
But I'll still be participating in the election … by voting. Odds are, actually, that I've already voted by the time you read this. If you haven't voted yet and the polls are still open, please go vote. Men and women have died so you could.