Thursday, May 30, 2024

Proposal would give Louisiana lawmakers their first pay raise in four decades

by BIZ Magazine

By Piper Hutchinson, Louisiana Illuminator

A bill the Louisiana Legislature will consider would give state lawmakers their first raise in over 40 years. 

House Bill 149, filed by Rep. Joe Marino, I-Gretna, would increase legislators’ salaries from $16,800 to $60,000. The amounts do not include per diem pay that each lawmaker is paid for each day they work. Those payments are more frequent when the legislature meets in special sessions.  

The  bill would also increase the pay of the House speaker and Senate president. 

Marino said he is proposing what is essentially a cost of living adjustment, as $60,000 has approximately the same buying power in 2023 as $16,800 did in 1980. 

Lawmakers last considered giving themselves a raise in 2008, when Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed the proposal after initially offering support

Marino, who is not seeking reelection, said he is bringing the bill because he feels that it is cost-prohibitive to be a legislator. Raising the pay would allow people from different walks of life to serve at the State Capitol. Many lawmakers hold jobs that allow them more flexible schedules, and a preponderance of legislators are attorneys. 

“It’s a sacrifice not just for a lawmaker but the lawmakers family to … not just take the job but keep the job,” Marino said. “The main gist behind it is to make sure that this job is affordable to people who want to serve.” 

Marino, who works as an attorney, said he has had to make financial sacrifices in order to make his legislative schedule work. 

The Louisiana Legislature is considered a part-time lawmaking body. Just 10 states have full-time legislators, while most have a hybrid legislature, meaning that lawmakers work about 75% of a full-time schedule. The average pay of a part-time legislator is about $2,000 higher than what Louisiana’s lawmakers are paid. 

The median household income in Louisiana is about $53,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Rep. Mandie Landry, I-New Orleans, said being a legislator has caused her serious financial difficulties.

“My long-term significant financial outlook has dramatically decreased since I’ve become a member,” Landry said. 

Landry, who is an attorney but grew up in a blue-collar household, said that she does not receive any payouts or settlements, but only gets paid when she works, which poses a problem for the three months out of the year the legislature is in session. Landry said she is only able to make her budget work by renting out the other side of her duplex, but even then, she still has had to rely on credit cards and make significant withdrawals of her pre-legislative savings. 

Landry said that she would like to see legislative pay increase not just for her own benefit, but to increase the number of working class individuals and young people who seek office. 

“[Young people] see the world very differently even than me,” Landry said. “They see the world differently. They’re thinking about the far off future. They think a lot more about the environment. They’re closer to education. They may never be able to own a house.” 

Landry said having a broader spectrum of people in the legislature would be a benefit to the state.

Marino echoed Landry’s sentiment. 

“If we make no changes in what we pay a legislator, we’re going to wind up with a legislature that’s going to be comprised of either wealthy individuals or retired individuals,” Marino said. “That’s not going to give us the kind of diversity that we should want in our in our elected officials.” 

“Public service, in my opinion, should not include someone suffering significant financial loss in order to serve their state,” Marino added. 

The legislative pay increase would go into effect at the beginning of the next term, which starts in January 2024.

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