PAR Calls Pay Raise Absurd Proposal
The $34,000 proposed pay raise for legislators is absurd. The increase would bring Louisiana legislators’ compensation to $70,000, which is 198 percent of the average pay for part-time legislatures across the nation and 102 percent of the average pay for full-time legislatures – including per diem amounts and expense allowances.
The proposal nearing final passage would tie legislative pay to 30 percent of congressional pay and have future raises automatically granted when Congress votes itself a raise. Under SB 672, legislative leaders in each chamber would get even larger salaries ranging from 35 percent to 45 percent of congressional pay.
Legislative salaries have not been increased since 1980, and some reasonable raise is due for future legislatures. The state’s Compensation Review Commission recommended a 12 percent cost-of-living increase in 2006 to be established by that legislature and to be effective in 2008 for its successors. The current proposal would yield an increase of 202 percent and would be effective for the current Legislature.
The Compensation Review Commission, which was established by the Legislature in 2000, is a body of nine independent members who issue reports every other year to recommend appropriate research-based salary levels for legislators and statewide elected officials. The commission’s recommendations are based on data and knowledge of what is practical in Louisiana’s current political environment.
Crafting compensation resolutions for legislators and statewide elected officials, including the governor, is the sole purpose of the commission. Yet, the Legislature has never approved a commission recommendation. The Legislature cannot amend the commission’s resolutions, but can ignore them and grant pay raises by statute, which is what is being attempted this year.
The 2006 report also recommended that the unvouchered expense accounts, which amount to an additional $6,000 annually for each legislator, be made a part of the regular salary and that annual cost-of-living increases be established in law.
The unvouchered expense accounts obscure a portion of legislative pay and should be folded into the regular salary levels. Currently, with the additional $6,000 included and the per-diem pay excluded, legislators’ salaries are $22,800. A 12 percent increase would yield a new salary level of $25,536, which is more in line with the average pay for part-time legislatures.
Pay raises for elected officials are political decisions with greater symbolic than fiscal impact. The current proposal would cost the state an additional $5.3 million next year. Any pay raise granted should only be applied in subsequent legislative terms of office. This would remove the ethical breach of a legislature voting itself a pay raise.
Louisiana voters demonstrated their preference for a “citizen” legislature by voting for a three-term limit, an end to the retirement plan for legislators and shorter sessions every other year. Most Louisianans do not want to be represented by a professional politician. They prefer someone with a stake in their community who considers being a legislator a public service rather than a job. Paying legislators a professional-level salary contradicts this ideal.
The pay raise bill is up for final consideration Friday morning by the House. The Legislature should resist the temptation to raise its own pay by this extravagant amount. If legislators cannot resist, the governor should veto the bill.