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Ethics Proposal Would Pay Legislators More 

Idea is to make money more transparent.

click to enlarge Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell speaks to reporters following his sentencing in January.

Scott Elmquist

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell speaks to reporters following his sentencing in January.

It’s doubtful if the idea will fly, but it could be a step in the right direction.

A governor’s panel created to explore ways of reforming Virginia’s ethics laws after the corruption scandal of former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell wants to make a fundamental change in how politicians spend money.

General Assembly members make pin money, about $18,000 a year, but often boost their personal income by using the extra $15,000 the state gives them for office expenses.

The Governor’s Commission on Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government recommends that the extra $15,000 be listed as income, giving the legislators salaries of about $33,000. They’d also get $15,000 for office expenses, but unlike today, the money would have to be documented and any left over would be given back to the state.

The panel, created by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, also wants to make certain politicians do not use campaign funds for personal use.

Perhaps the state’s most egregious example of dipping into the campaign piggy bank has been Tim Hugo of Fairfax, a Republican in Virginia’s House of Delegates. He expensed nearly $30,000 for travel and food and $9,400 for his cellphone over an 18-month period.

Republican leaders have pooh-poohed some of the proposed changes. One is House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, who has tight ties to McDonnell and has been reluctant to change the state’s lax ethics laws.

A bigger problem is the way the state regards its legislators. In a throwback to colonial days, they are part-timers since many were farmers. Today, they try to accomplish a tremendous among of work in about two months.

That might have worked in the 1820s, but it’s the 21st century and Virginia has 8 million people involved in sophisticated businesses. Many large and important states have professional legislators.

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