Friday, March 25, 2005

Nebraska Legislature Mulls Pay Increase

The Journal Star reports on a proposal to double the salaries of lawmakers in Nebraska's Unicameral. [Those from out of the area may not be aware that Nebraska has a single legislative body, unlike the other 49 states.]
"For the first time in 17 years, state senators appear ready to ask their bosses -- Nebraska voters -- for a raise. On Thursday, they gave first-round approval to putting a constitutional amendment before voters that would hike their annual salary from $12,000 to $24,000.

The measure passed on a 31-9 vote and will need 30 votes at final reading to go before voters during a general election; 40 votes are needed for a special or primary election."
You'll note that a constitutional amendment will be needed to raise their salaries, which is obviously a big reason that the pay is so modest in the first place. Given the squeeze on state finances over the past several years and the cuts that entailed in spending, we wonder what the legislature has been smoking. It's hard to imagine this getting approved by the voters.
"From 1972 until 1982, voters turned down five separate measures that would have increased salaries or allowed senators to do so. Until the amendment was approved in 1988, boosting pay to $1,000 a month, senators earned $400 a month."
The Lincoln Journal Star editorialized at the time in favor of one of those five (defeated) raise measures, saying higher pay was needed to attract "professional politicians." They weren't trying to be funny; it just came out that way.

Considering the results, we've often wondered if the legislators should be paid at all. The monthly salary is a bit misleading, as the Unicameral is not in session the whole year. The article also lists the states with highest and lowest salaries for their legislators:
"States that pay lawmakers the highest annual salaries*:
California: $99,000
Michigan: $79,650
New York: $79,500
Pennsylvania: $66,203
Illinois: $55,788

The lowest*:
New Hampshire: $100
South Dakota: $6,000
Texas: $7,200
Mississippi: $10,000
South Carolina: $10,400

*Figures don't include retirement plans or benefits
Source: The Detroit News"
From what we know of the above states, if there is any correlation of government quality with the salary numbers, it's an inverse correlation. We certainly prefer Nebraska's government over New York's, Michigan's or California's.

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