The Pros and Cons of Professionalizing the Legislature

The question of whether to professionalize the Florida State Legislature has been a hot topic in the world of politics. This debate involves increasing lawmaker pay, regulating outside employment, and potentially turning the Legislature into a full-time body. Yet, the concept is met with mixed feelings as some fear it may lead to the “big-government DNA” akin to states like California or New York. In contrast, others argue that the part-time citizen Legislature, as flawed as it may be, is better than the alternative. In this post, I reflect on the various perspectives on this issue, examining evidence to support each viewpoint.

Perspective 1: The Case for Professionalizing the Legislature

Those advocating for the professionalization of the Legislature assert that better compensation and full-time commitment may increase efficiency and effectiveness. Evidence from Groseclose et al. (1994) suggests that professionalized legislatures are more productive, with higher salary correlating with more bills passed. The argument here is that by increasing lawmaker pay, they would be less distracted by financial stress, enabling them to fully commit to their roles.

Furthermore, regulating outside employment would address potential conflicts of interest. A study by Gagliarducci et al. (2010) shows that politicians with outside jobs tend to vote less frequently and are more prone to absence during important decisions. If lawmakers’ attentions are divided between their political and private sector roles, it could undermine the public interest.

Given the potential benefits of professionalization, should we not reconsider the current legislative setup?

Perspective 2: The Risk of ‘Big Government’

On the flip side, critics argue that professionalizing the Legislature could result in a bloated government similar to those in California or New York. Florida TaxWatch (2018) pointed out that these states, with full-time legislatures, have some of the highest taxes and levels of public spending in the nation. The fear is that a more professional legislature would lead to more bureaucracy, increased spending, and potentially higher taxes. Additionally, critics argue that professionalization might distance legislators from the constituents they represent. These critics cite Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of a “citizen legislature” where lawmakers, like the people they serve, balance multiple responsibilities, making them more in tune with constituents’ issues.

How can we ensure that a more professional legislature does not distance lawmakers from their constituents and inflate government?

Perspective 3: The Value of a Part-Time Legislature

The part-time legislature is often seen as the imperfect yet ideal solution. While it does have its flaws, its strengths lie in the idea that lawmakers hold “real” jobs outside their legislative duties. This dual role can, theoretically, keep them grounded in the realities faced by their constituents (Schlesinger, 1966). However, there are indeed concerns about potential conflicts of interest with outside employment, as pointed out earlier. One potential solution to this is more stringent regulations and transparency requirements for these outside roles.

Are there ways to maintain the benefits of a part-time legislature while also addressing its flaws?

Perspective 4: The Florida Legislature – An Exclusive Domain for the Wealthy and Powerful?

A further point of contention surrounds the concern that the current Florida State Legislature may not accurately represent its diverse citizenry. Critics argue that the structure has become an exclusive playground for the wealthy and powerful, potentially undermining the democratic process. This concern is rooted in the fact that public service often requires considerable personal sacrifice. The Tampa Bay Times reported that the median net worth of Florida lawmakers was nearly $1.7 million, more than 24 times the median net worth of Floridians. This wealth gap is concerning because it suggests that only those with significant financial resources can afford to serve in the Legislature, and those without such resources are effectively barred from entry.

This is not to say that wealth should be a barrier to public service. Many successful and effective legislators come from affluent backgrounds. However, it does raise questions about diversity and representation. If the Legislature is predominantly composed of the wealthy, can it truly reflect and address the concerns of the less affluent? The principle of a representative democracy is that lawmakers should represent a cross-section of society. According to Reingold (2019), when legislators’ backgrounds are more diverse – including variables like socioeconomic status – legislation tends to be more comprehensive and equitable.

So, the question then becomes: How can we foster a Legislature that represents all citizens, not just the wealthy and powerful? A potential solution could be to professionalize the Legislature, increasing lawmaker pay to a level that allows more people, irrespective of their personal wealth, to consider public service as a viable career. However, as discussed earlier, this approach comes with its own challenges.

How can we encourage socioeconomic diversity within the Legislature, ensuring it is not just an exclusive domain for the wealthy and powerful, without falling into the pitfalls of professionalization?

The debate on professionalizing the legislature is complex, presenting a variety of viewpoints with compelling arguments and evidence on each side (Boushey et al., 2017). As we consider potential reforms, it’s crucial to reflect on these perspectives and ask ourselves: How can we improve the effectiveness of our legislature while avoiding undue bureaucracy and maintaining a strong connection with constituents? Additionally, how can we balance the need for lawmakers to be compensated fairly with the desire for them to stay in touch with the realities of their constituents?


Boushey, G. T., & McGrath, R. J. (2017). Experts, amateurs, and bureaucratic influence in the American states. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 27(1), 85-103.

Gagliarducci, S., Nannicini, T., & Naticchioni, P. (2010). Moonlighting Politicians. Journal of Public Economics, 94(9-10), 688-699.

Groseclose, T., & Krehbiel, K. (1994). Golden Parachutes, Rubber Checks, and Strategic Retirements from the 102d House. American Journal of Political Science, 38(1), 75-99.

Reingold, B. (2019). Gender, race/ethnicity, and representation in state legislatures. PS: Political Science & Politics, 52(3), 426-429.

Schlesinger, J. (1966). Ambition and Politics: Political Careers in the United States. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.

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