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The Legislature approved legislator salaries for the next four-year legislative term, which begins in 2018. The Legislature traditionally sets the level of legislator compensation well in advance of elections for the new term. Annual Legislator salaries are currently set at $19,075 for each year of the current term, with the Chair of the Legislature earning 50% above the base salary.
After nearly an hour-and-a-half of discussion, the Legislature voted to accept the recommendation of the Government Operations Committee and increase legislator salaries to $21,400 for each of the next term’s four years, 2018 through 2021, with the Chair continuing to earn 50% more than the base salary. The vote was 8-6, with Legislators Glenn Morey, Martha Robertson, Mike Sigler, Jim Dennis, Rich John, and Chair Michael Lane voting no.
The recommended salary amount incorporates the County’s support of the concept of a living wage, currently calculated by Alternatives Federal Credit Union, at $13.77 per hour for someone whose job includes health benefits. With legislative service generally recognized as similar to a part-time job, proponents maintained that recognizing the issue of the living wage for the work of a legislator will enable and encourage a greater diversity of representation on the Legislature and will allow more working-class people to serve. It was noted that Legislators have received only a single raise of $375 over the past seven years.
Legislator Jim Dennis advanced an alternate proposal, which would have increased salaries by $400 each year, increasing the base salary to $20,675 by the fourth year of the new term. That failed, however, to win support by a vote of 6-8, Legislators Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Dave McKenna, Peter Stein, Will Burbank, Anna Kelles, Dooley Kiefer, and Dan voting no. Mr. Dennis said the nature of the position of legislator lacks specific qualifications and is not really akin to a job requiring a living wage. Legislature Chair Michael Lane said he viewed the recommendation coming out of committee as too great an increase. “When people are running for the Legislature, they are thinking about community service…They are not running for a job,” he said. Recounting her own experience, Legislator McBean-Clairborne remarked, “When I first ran for office, I ran to serve, but I also needed a job…I think there are people out there who are interested in doing this…Let’s not sell this in a way that is disrespectful for those interested in running for office.”