Pay Hikes In Store For Lawmakers In 22 States

By: - May 11, 1999 12:00 am

WASHINGTON – As state legislatures move to close the books on this year’s sessions, pay hikes for lawmakers continue to play a prominent role in final-hour legislative frenzies. Since last looked at the issue on March 10, twelve more legislatures have voted themselves raises, increasing the number of states enacting raises in the past year to 22.

Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont are the latest states to join the trend.

But in at least two states, Indiana and Maine, lawmakers have rejected pay raises after partisan debate for fear of voter retribution.

The 43 percent pay raise secured by the Georgia legislature from $11,347 to $16,200 for the legislative term beginning in 2001 — is characteristic of the manner in which many of the raises were secured. The proposal sparked partisan fights in both houses of the legislature that were only settled in the final minutes of the 1999 session.

Republicans argued that legislators are paid enough and warned of the possible political fallout in 2000, when all 236 members of the Georgia House and Senate face re-election. Democrats argued that a pay raise is the only way to ensure the legislature would not become the province of the wealthy and retired.

Finally coming to a settlement, both houses agreed to delay the increase until after the next election. Gov. Roy Barnes signed the bill into law on Monday.

North Dakota legislators also ended their session with a push to secure a pay raise for themselves, following a strong lobbying effort by Republican leaders. After succeeding in achieving a two percent pay raise for all state employees, including themselves, Republican leaders were accused of strong arm tactics by some of their party fellows.

The raise will boost legislative pay to $111 per day in session, a raise of $3 per day. Even that rather trifling sum proved controversial, however.

“I’ve been in this place a long time,” Representative Bill Gorder said in a House caucus meeting. “We’re all Republicans, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen as heavy arm-twisting as I saw last night. I resent that.”

Dissent in Republican ranks centered on the details of the proposal, which passed in the form of a 2 percent hike this year and next, with an additional one percent hike allowed in each year if the budget allows.

A group of Republican lawmakers, jokingly dubbed the Rebel 16, joined with Democrats in opposition to the pay raise package. Democrats had vowed to vote in favor of three percent annual pay raises, and forced the 2-and-1 compromise on the Republican leadership.

Among the other enacted pay raises: Delaware, from $28,325 to ,574; Florida, from $25,668 to ,388; Michigan, from $53,192 to ,054; Missouri, from $27,580 to ,080; Oklahoma, from $32,000 to ,400; Pennsylvania, from $58,341 to ,245; Rhode Island, from $10,588 to ,768; South Dakota, from $4,000 to ,000; and Vermont, from $510 per week to $536 per week.

California legislators enjoy the highest salary in the nation, voting last year to raise their pay from $78, 624 to $99,000. New Mexico legislators are the nation’s only lawmakers who do not receive an annual salary, and collect only a $124 per diem.

Indiana lawmakers thought they had hammered out a long-sought agreement on a pay hike, but were stymied by a single member of the joint House-Senate committee considering the increase.

Republican Rep. Jeff Linder refused to join the three other members of his committee in giving approval to the measure, saying he wouldn’t sign the conference committee recommendation until a state budget deal was reached. All four members of the committee must sign off on any recommendations before the full legislature can vote on the measure.

Under the proposal, Indiana lawmakers’ out-of-session per diem would have been raised from $25 a day, seven days a week, to $39.20 per day, 35 percent of their in-session per diem. The increase amounts to roughly $6,000 to $9,400 in budget-writing years, and from about $7,125 to $11,175 in short-session years.

Indiana legislators make a base salary of $11,600, but when expense payments and per diems are figured in, no member makes less than $31,000. There has been no increase in base pay since 1985.

Legislative leaders in Maine also balked at giving themselves a pay hike, saying that other matters loom larger on the agenda. House Republicans have taken the position that the proposed 50 percent raises are a low priority in comparison to such issues as state school funding, highway funding and subsidized prescription drugs for the elderly.

Democrats say the raises are moderate, considering it’s been almost a decade since Maine legislators voted themselves a pay increase. Democrats had been pushing for an even larger raise, but reduced their demands to a raise from $18,000 to $27,000 for each two year legislative session.

The pay raise question also rekindled a long-standing state debate as to the nature of the legislature: some fear that the pay raise would make the “citizen” legislature become a full-time body populated by career politicians. A Republican counter-proposal recommends doubling constituent services allowances for senators to $2,000 per session and for representatives to $1,500 per session. The allowance can be used for almost any number of broadly defined categories, from sending mailers to paying for photographers.

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