Is the Missouri legislature too large? Voters could get a chance to fix that

Missouri Gov. Parson outlines priorities in State of the State address

Missouri Governor Mike Parson outlined his priorities in his State of the State address Wednesday afternoon in Jefferson City.
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Missouri Governor Mike Parson outlined his priorities in his State of the State address Wednesday afternoon in Jefferson City.

Missouri voters may get a chance to put their legislature on a much-needed institutional diet.

State Rep. Travis Fitzwater, a Republican from Holt’s Summit, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would reduce the size of the Missouri House, from its current 163 members to 120. At the same time, his plan would increase the size of the Senate, from 34 members to 40.

That last part is an unnecessary change, but we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Anything that slims down any part of the Missouri legislature is worth pursuing, and Fitzwater’s proposal is a good place to start.

Missouri’s House of Representatives is one of the largest in the United States. According to figures compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, only the state houses in New Hampshire, Georgia and Pennsylvania are larger.

There are more members in the Missouri House than in California, New York, Texas or Florida. Missouri has more than twice as many House members as New Jersey. It has more members than Arizona, Delaware and Oregon combined.

For what? Some Missouri legislators claim a larger House keeps lawmakers closer to the people, but there’s little evidence that’s true. Indiana, just slightly larger than Missouri, has 100 House members. There doesn’t seem to be a clamor in Indiana to grow the state legislature.

Some think a smaller House would mean fewer minorities would be elected. That, though, would largely depend on how districts are drawn, not on the size of the House itself.

We do know that reducing the size of the Missouri House would save money. A fiscal note for Fitzwater’s resolution says slimming the House to 120 members would save more than $3.6 million a year. That’s real cash.

As noted, Fitzwater’s plan grows the state Senate, from 34 members to 40. Fitzwater says he wants to maintain a 3-to-1 ratio in the legislature: three House members for every senator.

A 120-member House yields a 40-member Senate. Under his plan, each state Senate district would encompass three House districts, informally connecting the members in both houses. That’s a pretty good approach.

But growing the Senate would cost taxpayers $1.9 million. That’s the wrong direction.

And it’s wobbly math. A 34-member Senate and a 102-member House would still maintain a 3-to-1 ratio but would save even more money for taxpayers.

Fitzwater was asked about that recently, and he hinted at the struggle ahead. Going from 163 House members to 102 would throw more of his colleagues out of work.

“It’s already going to be hard for a number of members to, basically, vote themselves out of a job,” he said.

Perhaps. But in a body that complains relentlessly about the size of government, cutting the fat under the capitol dome seems like an extraordinarily clarifying opportunity. It’s time for lawmakers to put their jobs where their rhetoric is.

Fitzwater’s resolution should get a full House vote, and one in the Senate, too. Then it would go to the public for a final vote.

We’re confident the people would endorse a legislative diet in Jefferson City.