Should Jackson County Amend Its Charter?
Today’s Kansas City Star has a good summary of charter amendments being proposed in Jackson County. Charter counties like Jackson — there are only four of them in Missouri — go through this charter review process once each decade. I was pleasantly underwhelmed by the proposals, because I don’t think Jackson County’s government needs major charter changes.
It appears that they won’t be considering any changes to the partial at-large voting on their county council, which is unique among Missouri’s charter counties. There has been a good deal of work done on the question of at-large versus district representation. Public choice economics has provided some evidence that at-large voting leads to lower spending levels. The theory is simple enough: Officials elected at large have less of an incentive to engage in district-specific spending (think congressional “pork” writ local), because all of their constituents both benefit from and pay for all of the same things. My “Government in Missouri” study for the Show-Me Institute addresses this idea in detail on pages 25 and 26, and provides endnote citations to major public choice studies on the subject, for anyone who is interested enough to do further research. (This is usually the part of my government talks where people start to fall asleep.) When I compared the suburbs in St. Louis County that have at-large voting to those with the more common district voting found in city elections, I found limited evidence that the at-large cities spent less. I say “limited” because the differences were not huge, and the sample size was very small — but it’s all in the study.
The portion of the charter proposals that will generate a good deal of attention is the pay raise for local legislators. The charter committee report recommends:
- Set new pay levels for elected county officials, including boosting current legislators’ salaries by more than 10 percent to $28,916 annually. Legislators also would be guaranteed raises based on the local consumer price index.
I see nothing wrong with raising salaries to $28 K per year for nine council officials serving in a county of 650,000 people. There is nothing out of line with that. I do, however, disagree with the proposal to raise it automatically each year, according to the consumer price index. Raising your pay is one of the tough votes that elected officials have to make. Usually, moderate raises that are implemented rarely enough will be supported by the public, as I expect this one will be. However, it should still require a vote, rather than being turned over to a commission or a computer.