Friday, April 19, 2024

Pay raise for Louisiana lawmakers advances from House committee

by BIZ Magazine

By Greg LaRose, Louisiana Illuminator

A committee of Louisiana lawmakers has agreed to increase the long-stagnant compensation for legislators. Their base salary would be set at 75% of the state’s median family income under a proposal approved Tuesday. 

Rep. Joe Marino, I-Gretna, sponsored House Bill 149 that would have called for a $60,000 annual salary for legislators, and he was prepared to lower it to $50,400 based on what he said was an amount Gov. John Bel Edwards would endorse.

The House and Governmental Affairs Committee was ultimately comfortable with an amendment by Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, based on median family earnings. Currently, it would set legislative members’ base pay at around $40,000. That number doesn’t include the per diem, or daily money, lawmakers receive while in session.

Minus per diem, lawmakers are currently paid $16,800 a year — an amount that hasn’t changed since 1980 despite multiple study commission recommendations in the 2000s that legislators should increase their compensation. 

The committee approved the pay rate in an 8-4 vote, sending the proposal next to the House Appropriations Committee because it involves the state budget. If the bill obtains full approval, the pay raise would not take effect until after lawmakers end their current terms. 

Lawmakers last approved a raise for themselves in 2008, but then Gov. Bobby Jindal went back on a promise and vetoed the increase.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Marino and committee members discussed the awkwardness of giving themselves a pay raise, especially just ahead of the fall election when many plan to seek re-election.

“Service is about sacrifice. We know that when we run,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, who voted against Marino’s bill. 

Rep. Daryl Deshotel R-Marksville, who donates his legislative salary to charity, backed the proposal, saying that arguments to paint it as a pay raise were a “fallacy” given the 43 years the rate has gone unchanged.

House Speaker Pro-Tempore Tanner Magee, R-Houma, also supported Marino’s bill. He shared a brief history lesson with the committee on the French Revolution. One of the first actions of those who overthrew the monarchy was to give its members of its parliament a pay increase, he said.

Magee also challenged colleagues who suggested legislative pay not increase as long as Louisiana’s standing in various subjective rankings remains low. A business owner would not reduce what they pay a new hire if the worker being replaced does a poor job, he said.

“We’re going to keep getting the same results doing the same thing,” Magee said. “And the idea that we’re going to keep doing the same thing and have the expectations that we’re all of a sudden going to move up the charts on roads and bridges and education is crazy to me.”

Marino, an attorney who has decided not to seek re-election, provided statistics that show an average of 15 lawmakers have resigned from the legislature per four-year term. Their departures were largely based on the time demands of their elected position and the lack of compensation, he said.

Magee said one of the representatives who made an early exit could have potentially served as House speaker. 

Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, offered an amendment to Marino’s bill that would have allowed legislators to opt out of the pay raise in whole or part, but the committee rejected the change. Members argued it would have created divisiveness among legislators.

The legislative pay raise proposal comes as a pay raise for K-12 teachers is under consideration. The latest version of the state budget pares back a $2,000 increase the governor proposed in favor of putting more state money toward public employee and educator retirement system debts. 

Republic leaders in the House say their spending plan changes would free up resources for local school boards to increase teacher pay.

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