Pay legislators the Oregon median income

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

At BlueOregon, we've recently been talking about an op-ed by Josh Marquis - the Clastop County DA - who wrote about how much Oregon pays its judges. I'd like to dig in a bit more and talk about how and what we pay legislators.

Oregon has always been proud of its citizen legislature. But what does that really mean? Right now, we pay our legislators about $30,000 in the odd-numbered years and about $15,000 in the even-numbered years.

As a result, almost all of Oregon's legislators are wealthy, retired, self-employed, or have a day job with an employer that has interests before the legislature. Lots of legislators hire their spouses as staff, and they're tempted to do stupid things like double-dip for mileage, take freebies from lobbyists, and worse.

Seems to me we should think about a simple solution: Let's tie legislator pay to the median income of all Oregonians - no more, no less. Right now, that would be about $44,000 a year.

That would give legislators an incentive to focus on broad economic growth for all Oregonians, encourage talented folks to serve in the legislature, and reduce the incentive for misbehavior.

Seems reasonable to me. What do you think?

  • Phen (unverified)

    How are you computing "median income"? Gross State Product divided by population? Gross wage income divided by FTE? I can think of another possibility: average wage of "knowledge workers" (the kind of job legislators have) based on data collected by Employment or DCBS.

    I agree that low legislative salaries are a problem that makes it difficult to recruit quality candidates who are in their prime earning years. I like the idea of an independent body like what's now being proposed by the Commission so that legislators aren't setting their own pay.

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    If you click the link, you'll see. The magic of the internet...

  • John Napolitano (unverified)

    While some legislators work hard for little money, there are some that hardly work. My senator (Bruce Starr R-Hillsboro) is in Salem only 3 days a week during session. Assuming six months (26 weeks) of session on odd numbered years, that means a total of 78 days of work every two years. Yes, I know that he also has to attend meetings with lobbyists in Maui once in a while, but those 78 days of work are the bulk of what he does to earn his senatorial paycheck.

    If we are going to pay our elected representatives a decent salary, how are we going to make sure that we are getting our money's worth? Perhaps we need to pay them hourly, and make their compensation a multiple of the Oregon minimum wage. Or just go to a full-time, professional legislature and scrap the part-time citizen legislature we have now.

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    My senator (Bruce Starr R-Hillsboro) is in Salem only 3 days a week during session.

    Could you provide a source for your accusation? I'm sure you're right - but it's good to source things around here.

    As for the question of how much folks work, I think it's clear that the time on the floor isn't the sum total of their work time.

    I do think that if we pay people that median income of $44,000 that we would have an expectation that they work full-time for that. Not sure how other states enforce that, but that's the princpile of the thing.

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    I like your suggestion. It makes it easier to sell to the public but provides a chance to pay people a living wage. The issue we will have to deal with is the demagogues that will calculate the % increase in legislative salaries rather than a shift from a volunteer legislature. It maintains the tradition of a people's legislature in the 21st century.

    There are those who will say it is not a full time job and therefore it is only partial income (like John Napolitano above). Today's system forces those like Bruce Starr who are not rich or retired to try to maintain a living by cutting out support of their constituents. If he was paid more he might work more. Ultimately it is up to his constituents to decide, but today it is hard to criticize legislators who don't show up in Salem full time because they are trying to support their family and the public wants them to "volunteer" their time without real compensation.

  • John Napolitano (unverified)

    Last spring (around March/April) I tried to meet with my two republican representatives, Derrik Kitts and Bruce Starr, to talk about education funding. I scheduled a meeting for a Monday afternoon with Kitts, and thn asked Starr's office if I could do both on the same day. His assistant told me that he does not usually come to Salem on Mondays. I asked about Friday, because I knew that I had a half day available and I was told that he usually goes back to Hillsboro for the weekend on Thursday evening. In the end I never met with Kitts (his office cancelled due to a dental emergency as I was driving to Salem) and the meeting with Starr (midweek) was a total waste of time. I have never met anyone so strongly opposed to public schools. But I am digressing. What I mentioned in my comment above is based on what Starr's office told me.

  • Justin Morton (unverified)

    I think paying a median wage is a good idea. Oregon should also have a legislature that meets annually.

    Oregon is a 12 Billion dollar organization, and yet the legislature only meets 6 months every other year to make sure everything is running okay. If people want an effective efficient government, then they need to take their government seriously. And in turn, allocate government the time and resources necessary to do their job.

  • abc (unverified)

    John, the legislature was not in session last March/April, so your previous accusation needs refining. It isn't uncommon for Capitol offices to be dark during the interim. That's the citizen part of the citizen legislature.

    I don't know squat about Sen. Starr's work habits, but I do know that the legislature was originally concieved as a citizen/part time legislature. But things have changed in the last 150 years, and the Oregon Legislature needs to adapt with the times. We expect far more, far more quickly, from our legislators than they did in the horse and buggy days.

    In fact, you illustrate the point. Ideally, the 18-ish month interim is when legislators go back to their jobs and put food on their families. Yet you expected Sen. Starr to be available to meet with you during that time and are incensed that he wasn't available.

    Kari makes a good suggestion, and in principle he is backed up by the Public Commission on the Legislature. Whether it's median income, average "information worker" income, or some other standard, these public servants need to earn a living wage. They are nearly all -- regardless of party -- civic minded individuals who are trying to make this state a better place to live and work.

    If we want a legislature that acts in a professional and proficient manner, we must acknowledge that the old model is outdated. We should modernize that model, and that includes legislative salaries.

    Oh, and John, Sen. Starr is held accountable for his job attendance and performance every four years in November. Just because you didn't like the decision of the hiring committee doesn't mean he isn't answerable to anyone...

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    I like the suggestion of more pay for those that serve us in Salem, but I think the amount is too low.

    Just using myself as an example -

    If I were to serve in Salem, the time away (all of six to seven months every other year) would kill my sole proprietary business. In no way would the median income of $44,000 reimburse me for the loss of income from the demise of my business. The two people that work for me would be out on the street.

    And, to serve in Salem anyone from my part of the State would need a place to live in Salem. A median income does not serve an extraordinary expense like a second household.

    And that is only one reason that I think its too low. Do we want "average" in the Legislature, or above average?

    I get the point about the wages motivating the Legislature to help raise the broader business environment so that they would earn more pay, but really, you have to attract competent people to start with. Why should someone like me take a 75% cut in pay to then have the expense of two households (for 6/7 months), plus travel, etc. etc.??

    I think the pay ought to be more in the range of $75,000 or up if we really want to encourage people with good qualifications other than personal wealth to take on this job.

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    Yep. When the subject was floated here last week, I thought it was a good idea. Would open up the field a bit more and as you correctly noted, incentivise working to improve the overall wage situation for everyone int he state which is one of the things our elected officials shoudl be doing.

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    If I were to serve in Salem, the time away (all of six to seven months every other year) would kill my sole proprietary business. In no way would the median income of $44,000 reimburse me for the loss of income from the demise of my business.

    Sure, Steve. But making sure that anyone can serve without loss of income isn't reasonable. What would we do when Phil Knight wants to serve? Compensate him his $100 million? It's still a citizen legislature, and service still requires sacrifice.

    I'm just not sure that we could sell Oregonians on the idea that something like $75,000 is reasonable for politicians.

    And, to serve in Salem anyone from my part of the State would need a place to live in Salem. A median income does not serve an extraordinary expense like a second household.

    Agreed. I think there should be some sort of allowance made for housing -- either financial, or perhaps the legislature could rent rooms from Willamette University. We should be prepared to pay for a bed, a shower, and a closet -- beyond that, it's up to you.

    I also think we should - like Congress - set the mileage/travel budget on a distance-from-the-capitol basis.

    All these are details, however. The first step would be create a pay scale for legislators that makes sense.

  • John Napolitano (unverified)

    John, the legislature was not in session last March/April, so your previous accusation needs refining.

    It was either the last week of March or the first week of April 2005. It's been a year and a half ago, I don't have the actual date and time in my calendar any more. If you need to have the exact date and time, you may need to check with Sen. Starr's office.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Ethics reforms that make it harder for legislators to receive money would be more palatable if we paid then a decent salary.

    As long as the pay seems reasonable to voters, I don't care how it's calculated. My estimate is that at least a 25% increase is needed.

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    Great idea, tying legislator pay to the median income. But shouldn't senators get more pay than house members?

    Maybe pay house members the median minus 5% and pay senators the median plus 5%. Or some combination thereof so that overall, the combined pay of all legislators divided by the number of legislators is equal to the state's median income.

    The ballot title should say that legislators' pay should be limited to and not exceed the median income, so it will sound like we are limiting their pay rather than increasing it. Most people mistakenly think legislators get paid a lot more than they really do, so voters will buy it.

  • abc (unverified)

    Adam, why would we pay Senators more than Representatives? Incidentally, at the federal level, base pay for Representatives and Senators is identical, though you get more if you're a party leader.

    John: fair enough. I believe you on the timing, and it doesn't have to get that specific.

    I would add (Lord, here I go again defending Bruce Starr) that being in your office in Salem isn't the only way to effectively represent constituents. I had a mentor once who told me that you can't learn anything sitting behind a desk. Sure, some elected officials are lazy and/or power hungry and are not responsive to their constituents. But most are out working hard and getting little but personal satisfaction in return. As long as they're not missing votes and committee meetings you can't call them unaccountable just because, to you, they're unaccounted for.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    The pay should stay the same until we see... big, huge positive results.

    I have a "friend" who worked in local media and then went to Salem to "clean up the big stinking mess". He's a smart guy, who worked hard, very hard, and even came up with some great ideas, but he never found one thin dime to pay for 'em.

    Well, he quit Salem and the six-figure offers are just pouring in from lobbying firms, p.r. firms, investment companies, etc,...

    He's set to make more money this year than he did in six or eight years in Salem.

    So, Oregon lawmakers should think in terms of "deferred" payments worth... millions of dollars... because in America it is not what you know, but who you know, like Paul Romaine, the unofficial KING of Oregon, safely ensconced in his seven-figure condo high atop the KOIN Tower, where he can look down on his loyal subjects. And laugh.

  • CS (unverified)

    You may not have figured in the per diem that legislators get every day the legislature is in session.That money is paid as per diem so it is technically not salary and is not subject to witholding or taxed per se the same way that salary would be. That per diem is paid whether the legislator commutes from a home in Salem or farther away...and regardless of whether he/she pays for lodging in Salem. This is in addition to any mileage reembursement or pay for spouse (as aide/secretary etc) or money for office expenses etc. In the interim, a legislator collects the salary while they may work full time at another job plus is paid for any meetings (perdiem). To get an accurate picture of what a legislator actually earns,you need to add that all in. IT is not an insignificant amount. Also, I do not think that you have to pay people more to make them less susceptible to bribes or accepting trips from lobbyists to Hawaii and not reporting it. If making more money makes people honest...does making minimum wage make people dishonest? CS

  • CS (unverified)
    (Show?) Is worth reading if you want to see how legislators are actually paid..although much is written to peg reembursement to high rates stipulated elsewhere..such as FEDERAL per diem and you will see that there is potential for being paid twice for the same expenses and for attending advisory committees, task force subcommittees etc which are not even formal legislative bodies....

  • CS (unverified)

    Anyone know if the $91 per day paid per diem (2005 figures)is only for 5 days per week or is for 6 or 7 days per week during legislative session? Its my understanding that the per diem is paid regardless of attendence (ie..whether the legislator is sick or off on personal biz or whatever..) but that may be because its just a hassle keeping track...Per diem is actually a way to be paid more without it being taxed like wages. Anyway, it its for 5 days/week and supplemented by salary, then they are earning at rate of about $42,000 year if they were working a full year during the in session year ..not counting mileage, office allowance, phone etc. The speaker and the president of the Senate get double salary..

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Kari wrote, "Sure, Steve. But making sure that anyone can serve without loss of income isn't reasonable. What would we do when Phil Knight wants to serve? Compensate him his $100 million? It's still a citizen legislature, and service still requires sacrifice."

    First time I've ever been compared to Phil Knight!

    Hey Kari - you just don't get it. My ONLY means of support is my work, I'm not sitting on a few million to tide me over. If I give up my ONLY means of support, and take on the bills for a second household, then I NEED to earn more than the median income just to barely manage.

    Kari - I won't accuse you of classism, but you've got a blind side about the realities of working people.

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    Sid wrote, He's set to make more money this year than he did in six or eight years in Salem.

    Mark Hass was in demand because he's a talented guy who knows a lot about communications. I daresay the salary he's earning now has more to do with his TV news experience than his legislative experience.

    Steve wrote, Hey Kari - you just don't get it. My ONLY means of support is my work

    Oh yeah, I do get it. It's certainly fair to point out that you'd take a pay cut to serve in the legislature. But that's hardly the point. This ain't about how to get Steve Bucknum to run for the legislature.

    $44,000 might not be enough to get a LOT of people interested in serving the legislature, but it'll increase the pool substantially.

    As for the "realities of working people" - well, I think the median income pretty well represents the, well, median of the "working people" demographic.

    It is absolutely true that the higher the salary goes, the more people will chase the job. A million bucks a year? Every Oregonian will try and figure out how to get elected. Is that a good thing? No.

    I'm just brainstorming here -- how much is enough to boost the pool, and yet still possible to get passed?

    If you peg it at the median, exactly half of Oregonians will think "that's more than I make" and exactly half will think "that's less than I make".

  • Levon (unverified)

    Oregon has professional lobbyists and it needs professional legislators.

    The 19th century notion of the "citizen-legislator" is quaint but absurd.

    Policymaking in the 21st century for a state with over 3.5 million people and a $12 billion+ budget requires people with ample time and experience to craft laws and fiscal policy.

    The median idea is hardly objectionable; although it could be argued that lawmakers should earn what managers and professionals earn. $44K is really pretty weak.

    If one of the concerns is "what the average person will think," then we should survey Oregonians and see what they believe the status quo pay for legislators is. Take the median of that figure and you'll probably wind up with a figure in the $85,000 range.

    Does anyone think that the "average Oregonian" believes that state officials and federal reps. are paid that differently? Wyden, Westlund....they're all damn politicians to most folks.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    Well Kari, you're having a little more luck with this than when you ran my guest column, but not much.

    Median income which is what I proposed in my article is mostly about making the idea palatable for the voters, it certainly will still disqualify Steve unless he can find a work-around. I wouldn't be disqualified (economically) but it would peobably kill my business, leaving me no place to go afterwards.

    We need annual sessions, Oregon is no longer the 2 horse state it was, it is now a large concern. No business involving that kind of budget would allow managemnet to take 1 1/2 years off in every 2 years.

    Waiting until the thing changes is just a matter of continuing to do what we've done, why would it change if the pool remains the same? This is no slam at the many of our legislators who do take a hit in order to do the public's work, it's about the pool. This encourages a hobbyist approach and an institutional ignorance of daily life most Oregonians experience.

  • Joe12Pack (unverified)

    Sounds reasonable to me. Heck, pay 'em double the median income for all I care. Our elected officials should be worth as much as say a Metro planner, DHS administrator or a tenured K-12 teacher. Does anybody here believe that Oregon's current pay scale for legislators is not ridiculously low?

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Kari writes, "Oh yeah, I do get it. It's certainly fair to point out that you'd take a pay cut to serve in the legislature. But that's hardly the point. This ain't about how to get Steve Bucknum to run for the legislature."

    Hate to pop your balloon, but Kari, yes it is about Steve running for the Legislature. I am the prime example of someone who might well run if there was a way to make it possible. We could not find a single Democrat able to run for the State Legislature from my House District because 1) the point of this discussion - the economic hardship once elected, and 2) the complete lack of funds for a run for the Legislature (even the education lobby groups support Republicans over here).

    So, if it doesn't work for me, then exactly who does it work for? Chuck Butcher comments that the median income would work for him, but he would lose his business. Ahh, Chuck, did you talk with wife? I know the cost of living in Baker City is relatively low, and like Kari suggests, you could live in a dorm room in Salem - but your yellow monster truck will need fuel for the commute.

    ~~ Which brings me to another, fundamental, point.

    Why should public service involve sacrafice?

    Why do we expect that service in a host of publically funded arena's should involve low pay for high demand work? We pay our child care / day care workers in this society a near minimum wage - to take care of our future. We pay people who work in non-profit corporations low pay to work with the elderly, disabled, etc. in spite of needing skills and qualifications. The State actually deliberately farms out all kinds of work to non-profit corporations because it is cheaper to do that than to pay State wages for the State to do these services in-house.

    Why do we pay the least for that which is the most important?

    Our society has a sick assumption regarding the value of service to our society. We treat people who give service as if they are idiots, to take less money for hard work. And yes, we get lots of people to do this based upon the exploitation of their commitment to our society. -- I know, I was one of these people for 20 years.

    So Kari - you think that at best we should pay the 90 people that serve in the Legislature a median wage, even though they decide how Billions are spent.

    Would a stock holder of a big company doing Billions of dollars of business want their company controlled by a staff that were limited to the median income of the State? No, stock holders want the best and brightest people to run their company.

    So, I find it more than sad that as reflected here in this discussion, we debate whether we should pay median income or not. This is not how good managers think, and as voters we are the managers.

  • John Napolitano (unverified)

    Would a stock holder of a big company doing Billions of dollars of business want their company controlled by a staff that were limited to the median income of the State? No, stock holders want the best and brightest people to run their company.

    They would insist on executive and C-level personnel who not only are compensated adequately, but do their job full time. As a "stockholder" in the state of Oregon, I would like our legislators to do it as their only job, as long as they are serving. And they should be paid well enough to make it worth leaving their old career behind. And that would probably be more than the median Oregon income, and in line with similar compensation for legislators in other states. We are not going to go broke if we pay 90 people what they are worth.

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    There is an easy way to guarantee that they do a good job for the pay: if they don't, vote them out of office! Democracy is a wonderful thing.


    Chicken and egg problem. You don't want to pay a decent wage until you get results out of an amateur legislature that you like. But with amateurs running things... see the problem?

  • Darrell Fuller (unverified)

    Sad, really. Very sad. When candidates lose and continue to look for any opportunity to bash their opponent even when off-topic.

    Gee, John Napo, I guess the voters in Washington County believe (rightly so) that Bruce Starr can do more for them working only 3 days a week instead of your 5 (or 7) days. Must hurt, but get over it.

    Bruce is a friend, so I do have a dog in this fight, but c'mon, John. Give it a rest.

    By the way, many legislators block out time on their calendars to be in district meeting with business and community leaders to ensure they are getting enough local feedback on what is happening in Salem. Could John Napo really be complaining because Bruce is in the district? I guess if he had been elected he would have promised never to be in the district during the session. Great platform. Go with that in four years, John. In the meantime, maybe take a community college course on what REPRESENTATIVE democracy is all about, including the part about taking the time to listen to your constituents.

    In twenty years in Oregon politics I have observed people of all political stripes working very hard. During session, twelve hour days are common. Near the end, twenty hours days are just part of the job. With the sad exception of Kelley Wirth, I don't recall observing ANY lazy legislators (or staff) in either party. They all have my thanks for their service even if I disagree with their world view.

    Breathe, Darrell, breathe. Let John's ignorance show.

    Anyway, Kari, I had planned to comment only on your thread but got sidetracked by someone throwing a whining, tantrum.

    I did my senior paper at Willamette U. in 1988 on the need for a full-time, professional legislature, including full-time year-around staff both in Salem and in the district. I still think that is the way to go.

    With regard to salaries, $44,000 would be a small step foward, but lawmaking is not a median job.

    I have another thought. I don't want getting elected to be a pay increase. So, why not this: A legislator is paid the average of their income over the past three calendar years prior to the year in which they were elected. Of course it would need both a floor (so retired folks receiving no income would still get some renumeration for their hard work) and a ceiling (so we aren't paying CEO-level salaries). Maybe a top limit of 80 percent of the governor's salary or something like that.

    Of course wealthy lawmakers could always have the option of reducing their own salary if they don't want or need it.

    Per diem based on a formula including milage from the lawmaker's home to the Capitol and the geographic size and population of their district would make more sense than a flat rate for everyone. When former Treasurer Jim Hill was in the Senate, he was the victim of a disingenuous attack by his opponent (former Packwood staffer Terry Kay) over not providing receipts and an accounting for how he spent his per diem when he lived only a few miles from the Capitol. I was so offended by the attacks that I actually voted for a Democrat (the first time for me). For a partisan like me, that was a big deal.

    We expect too much of our legislators, especially when you consider their salary. Take their pay, all the free lobby meals, gifts, etc., and divide it by the number of hours they work and I bet few are even paid minimum wage.

    Great conversation, Kari. This is the kind of stuff that makes blogs a force in the real world.

  • Tim Trickey (unverified)


    It is rare that I agree with you, but on this issue, I do. I think that our legislators should receive higher compensation. I would even pay them more than the median income (regardless of how this is figured).

    I think that in order to attract the best and the brightest politicians and citizen legislators, we need to pay them a wage that allows them to avoid poverty, and that makes those contributions, "gifts" and lobbyist-paid-trips less enticing.

    In a perfect world, I would want to see term-limits as the companion piece of legislation to any raise in their rate of pay. That way we still retain the concept of a "citizen legislature", and yet are able to attract qualified individuals, regardless of their political leanings.

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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    I think basing their pay on the median income is a huge step in the right direction. You're already looking at nearly a $30K increase in the amount of money they would be paid ($15K to $44K). As someone who is looking at running in the near future, that would make for a lot less worrying about having enough money for my husband and I to raise our family.

    I don't think that legislator pays should be in any way tied to how much you made in your previous work. All legislators should receive the same base pay, with extras being added on for legislative-based work, such as serving as speaker of the house.

    Running for elected office is a sacrifice. You give up time with your family. Unless you live right around Salem, it is a good sized commute. Some have to rent additional housing because they live outside of a reasonable driving distance. It also means that if you're making a good amount of money in your private sector job, you're going to take a pay cut.

    Sure, I'd love to see legislators making more than $44K. Do I think the voters will go for pay closer to $100K anytime soon? No. But I do think they would be willing to raise it to a more reasonable amount, and then see if they get a better return for their investment. Especially since the average voter probably thinks they're paid a lot more than that already.

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    Steve Bucknum: I think I agree with everything you wrote.

    I'm just trying to think about what's possible along with what's right.

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    I'm surprised by the handwringing over legislative pay. This thread really deals with two issues, which should be separated: (a) should Oregon have a full or part-time legislature? and (b) are legislators adequately compensated for their current, part-time work?

    I'm not sure the answer to (a), although I agree with many here that if we decide we need a full-time legislature, we should increase the pay. I think the answer to (b) is probably yes for Salem/Portland-area legislators and no for everyone else.

    I'm fresh off House orientation and training, so the numbers are still in my head. Base pay for legislators will be $18,408/year starting in 2007. Pretty skimpy, but legislators will also draw a $99/day per diem for every calendar day of the session. Assuming we adjourn June 30, this will add another $17,127 for a total of $35,535 in 2007. If we want our legislators to work only part-time (full-time during the session but part-time during the interim), this isn't too bad. In fact, it's very close to my entire annual salary as a teacher -- a job to which I will return in September, 2007.

    While there are good arguments for increasing salaries of teachers and legislators, there is something to be said for ensuring the professions aren't filled with people who are doing it for the money.

    The main problem with pay under the current system (again, setting the part/full-time issue aside) is fairness. As a Portland legislator, I can pocket most of the per diem by commuting to Salem. This isn't true for those folks who are coming from other parts of the state and have to rent an apartment or stay in a hotel.

    Sensible reforms? * Index the per diem based on distance from home to Capitol. * Increase the budget for legislative staff and supplies. Many Capitol staffers work as hard as their bosses and get paid only a pittance. Moreover, even if Legislators are frugal, they can save only about enough to mail 1-2 postcards per year to constituents. When legislators are unable to adequately communicate with constituents -- advertising town halls, explaining what's happening in Salem, asking for input on legislation -- democracy breaks down. To me, that's the real problem with our Legislative budgets.

    Ben Cannon State Representative-elect, House District 46

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Jenni mentions the figure of $100,000, Kari's proposal is $44,000 -

    Exactly what is the difference?

    90 members of the legislature:

    90 * (100,000-44,000) = $5,040,000 plus fringe like FICA.

    Is that alot? Hmmm, what if you limited gifts to Legislators, and took away other non-tax payer benefits (whatever those are?). Paid by the people not the lobbists - perhaps $5 million is cheap.

    Lots of things depend upon how you frame them.

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    Approximate numbers for 90 legislators:

    $44K/year: in-session ($61,127)-- $5,501,430 Difference: +$2,303,280/year

    $100K/year: in-session ($117,127)-- $10,541,430 non-session-- $9,000,000 Difference: +$7,343,280/year

    Current costs: in session ($35,535)-- $3,198,150 non-session ($18,408)-- $1,656,720

    To people who have seen many cuts made to important services and constant talk of budget shortfalls, talking about increasing legislature pay by almost $15 million for a two-year budget cycle sounds like a lot of money.

    Like I said, I would love to see the pay get closer to $100K. But, seeing it go up to $44K would be a great start. In the years the legislature is in session, they'd see their pay increase 42%. In what is now the non-session years, they'd see their pay increase by 58%.

    They'd make more on their in-session year under the proposed $44K/year pay proposal ($61,127) than they currently do for the entire two years ($53,943). Over the two years they'd make $105,127.

    And of course if things were changed to have the legislature in session both years, the second year's pay would be higher because there would be a per-diem there as well.

  • Steve (unverified)

    "encourage talented folks to serve in the legislature, and reduce the incentive for misbehavior."

    Why wouldn't term limits work?

    I just get the feeling that once legislators get comfortabel, it will become a full-time job, with PERS, gold-plated benefits and they will become more insulated from the average Joe.

    I mean look at the CoP, commissioners make about 3x what the average guy makes and have full-meal deal benefit plans. They do not understand what the guy struggling to make a living and pay his taxes and save for retirement and get good health care struggles with.

  • (Show?)

    Term limits don't work for that. What happens is that a legislator on their last term doesn't have to feel accountable to the voters. They don't have to worry about another election, after all.

    The best form of term limits is the voters.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    Steve writes:

    "I just get the feeling that once legislators get comfortabel, it will become a full-time job, with PERS, gold-plated benefits and they will become more insulated from the average Joe."

    First, PERS benefits for new legislators are under the new OPSRP, not the "old" PERS which paid the good retirement benefits. Second: Legislators only earn $17,000 per year in PERS-eligible benefits. Under the very best circumstances, they aren't going to make very much money in retirement from their PERS service (they have to serve for at least 5 years before they are vested - 3 terms by my count for House members). Third: the "new" PERS system functions like a 401-K and even if the legislators served for 5 terms (House), with no money match, the benefits won't amount to a hill of beans. The real money comes when a PERS members under the old system hits about 20 years. Under the new system, the market determines what they'll get at any time. Sure, they get 1.5% of final salary for each year of service, but (after 10 years) 15% of $17,000 isn't enough to pay property taxes on a typical house anywhere in the district.

    The only scam possible is IF a legislator jumps from the Legislature directly to a public sector job with PERS. Tony Corcoran, for example, did this after the 2003 legislature and put himself in line for a pension worth about 8 times what he would have been eligible for had he stayed in the Legislature or gone back to his "day" job while serving in the Legislature. Perhaps banning legislators from taking jobs in the public sector for at least 2 years AFTER service in the Legislature and banning legislators from taking jobs as lobbyists for at least two years after service in the Legislature would be helpful.

    I hardly think legislators get comfortable because of PERS benefits, especially now. They just aren't that good to make up for the miserable pay.

  • Steve (unverified)

    Once again, you get focused on PERS (mrfearless47 must have a metasearch on every BLOG for PERS) which is not the only benefit.

    When you make being a legislator a career, then you get people isolated from the issues of the working guy, which is why I assumed he wanted to tie their salary to the median income. However, they can set their own salary with the help of a compliant governor like Teddy and it will be well beyond the median like CoP.

    I'd refer you to the US Senate/House who don't pay FICA since they have their own "special" retirement fund and their own great benefits otherwise. They worry about what voters think 3 months every term (I don't remember the last time I saw Wyden/Smith here or on TV) plus they have the huge incumbent advantage where you need to be a crack-smoking child molestor to get voted out.

    My big issue is when legislators need another job to be legislators, this forces them to see the cold, hard world we normal people live in who need medical insurance, want to send their kids to college and worry about retirement.

  • Karl Smiley (unverified)

    $44,000 sounds like a good # to me. I don't believe that paying more would get higher quality legislators. Our representatives should understand the lives of most Oregonians, so, in general, I would prefer that they come from a median income background. I don't think it is wise to attract people who have made accumulation of wealth their life goal and measure of success.

  • Ramon (unverified)

    We really ought to cancel legislative elections except in the case of death or retirement. That way we avoid the lame duck problem and won't have to deal with term limits ever coming back. The legislative sessions ought to be formatted like Congress, essentially full-time with decent vacations like corporate executives get. And now that we've killed off the initiative process, thank goodness, we can finally pass a maximum wage law for Oregon and then legislators can simply set their own pay and the number won't really matter that much. After all, they are the experts and they know best.

  • DAN GRADY (unverified)

    I would not do this in a half measure, that is pay the politician, and pay for the elections as we pay taxes for our common good, we need to pay as a common interest.

    To explain, if an election for a representative like Karen Minnis can cost millions of special interest money to get her elected, are we to believe an increased salary of $44,000.00 really be a deterrent to corruption. I would like to see the elections finance adopt the method used in Arizona, as it neutralizes the special interest to make the independent citizen with no interests in making favors for financing.

    The savings is obvious as we don't get corruption that costs so much more than the financing of elections. A donor throughs a hundred thousand dollars around and gets millions in contracts, and variances of all sorts the leaves the tax payer paying on both ends of the equation. I say as a taxpayer I want to see what I'm paying for, and know why the money is being spent.

    I believe that as a democracy that seeks to thrive for the future we need our politicians to carry the burden of leadership, and to set high standards of ethics. We need to pay these people on the par of executives in the private sector, or we'll have them in the private sector bartering our interest at bargain basement prices as we do now.

    The call for privatizing of government services has historically resulted in the explosion of cost of the same services, and the eventual demise of those services, and thus the culprits revert to their original rationale of government is not the answer!

    This is the kind of double speak, and liaise faire economist rationale that leaves us back to the standards that brought on the Great Depression, and the great social upheaval that was the rise of the communist regimes.

    I say we need to believe in democracy, and do only those things that nourish it!!

    Happy Thoughts;

    Dan Grady

  • Madam Hatter (unverified)

    Why use the median household income, rather than median income for individuals?

    Also, why no response to CS's very valid questions/comments regarding per diem, etc? Looking at their salary is only one small piece of this.

    Finally, I'll say it again... the "logic" which always creeps in on this topic of "reduc[ing] the incentive for misbehavior" is appalling, IMO. If you ever want to sell this to the public, stop that nonsense at least. Geez.

  • Marvin McConoughey (unverified)

    Discussions above seem to connect the rewards of being a legislator with how many dollars are paid. Wrong choice. A legislator gets paid by the personal power, perks, and prestige that comes with the job. Nor is it necessary to pay sufficiently to entice higher paid professionals to join. We already have excellent representation of professionals in the legislature. Those who anticipate higher legislative quality from higher pay can examine the national congress. Do you see a connection there between higher pay than Oregon's legislature, and higher performance? I certainly do not.

    The highest personal performance that I have observed came while supervising a Habitat for Humanity house building project. Zero pay, great rewards.

  • (Show?)

    Ben Cannnon writes: "While there are good arguments for increasing salaries of teachers and legislators, there is something to be said for ensuring the professions aren't filled with people who are doing it for the money."

    This sentiment has been expressed multiple times in this thread and in others, and I just don't understand the logic.

    If you want to compete for excellent employees, don't you pay excellent wages? Don't we want legislators who are ambitious, who want to pass good public policies in order to win reelection, to compete for the office?

    It's not as if we are suggesting a king's ransom here. But we ought to make legislative pay at least somewhat reflective of the responsibility and workload.

    And as I posted in a previous thread on this subject, if you want to deal with ethics, overly influential lobbyists, or nepotism, then raise the salaries.

  • Marvin McConoughey (unverified)
    <h2>Paul writes "if you want to deal with ethics, overly influential lobbyists, or nepotism, then raise the salaries." Paul, has that approach worked in the national congress?</h2>

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