Thursday, November 16, 2017

Board votes to cut Oklahoma legislative pay 8.8%

Today, the Oklahoma Legislative Compensation Board voted 4-3 to reduce legislator's salaries by 8.8%, taking effect in November 2018. The move would reduce the base salary from $38,400 to $35,021, saving the state about $500,000.

A little information about the LCB:
In order to regulate compensation paid to the Legislature, the Oklahoma Constitution created the Board on Legislative Compensation. The Board is composed of five members appointed by the Governor of Oklahoma, two members are appointed by the President pro tempore of the Oklahoma Senate, and two members are appointed by the Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The members appointed by the Governor must be from religious organizations, communications media, nonstate-supported educational institutions, labor organizations, and retail business. The members appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate shall be from agricultural and civic organizations and the members appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be from manufacturing and from professional fields not otherwise specified.

No member of the Legislature may be appointed to serve on the Board. In addition to the nine voting members, the Chairman of the Tax Commission and the Director of State Finance serve as ex officio nonvoting members of the Board. The Chairman of the Board is designated by the Governor. 
The last time legislative pay was changed was in 1997.

In an AP article by reporter Sean Murphy, House Majority Leader Jon Echols (R-OKC) said, "This is easier for me, because I don’t need my legislative salary and I don’t run for my legislative salary. I just think we eventually need to have the conversation about who we want in the Legislature. Do we want those who are independently wealthy or retired and can afford it? Or do we want average, everyday citizens to have the ability to do it?"

Portions of a statement by House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) are quoted by KFOR in this article: "I don’t do this job for the money, so personally I don’t mind the vote at all. I think the same could be said for House leadership, who often times are working nights and weekends trying to achieve the best possible outcomes for our citizens. This job is about public service as it should be. This is not a ‘part-time job,’ as so many like to say. The four-month legislative session is only a portion of the work that lawmakers do. Cutting compensation ensures that in the future many lower-income but capable citizens won’t be able to run for the Legislature. Only those with financial means will have the opportunity to represent citizens at the Capitol."

McCall pointed out the hefty salaries that Executive branch bureaucrats pull in -- disgraced (and resigned) Department of Health chief Terry Cline was getting paid over $195,000, and Deputy Health Commissioner Julie Cox-Kain (who also resigned) was getting over $146,000. He goes on to say, "In the House of Representatives, the citizens get a chance every two years to decide if their representative is earning his or her income. With the Executive branch, there is no accountability for poor performance. So, yes, I welcome not only the discussion on legislative pay, but on all taxpayer-funded compensation."

Governor Mary Fallin said this in a press release: "I was surprised by the action of the Board on Legislative Compensation. The board is a constitutionally formed independent panel granted the power to change the pay of lawmakers. Their vote reflects the level of the public's frustration. There are many hardworking legislators who spend more than 40 hours a week outside of regular session representing their constituents. In many cases, they do so at the expense of lost compensation from their normal jobs and time away from their families."

After observing politics for a dozen or so years, one common statement I have heard is "we should cut legislative pay", or some variation of the sentiment. While I understand why people might think that, I find myself in agreement with what Majority Leader Echols, Speaker McCall, and (shock) even Governor Fallin said in the above comments.

As the son of a legislator, I've had a bit of a different viewpoint than most. While commonly called a "part-time job", it really isn't. The regular legislative session may only last four months, but there is much more to the job of a legislator than simply the gaveling in and gaveling out of a session.

Some states pay their members very little. As such, it severely limits the type of individuals who can afford to seek office -- almost strictly limited to retired and/or independently wealthy persons. That serves to restrict the viewpoint and experiences of those representing the people.

My parents have owned and operated a small business for 30 years. When my dad was first elected to office, I was not old enough to work full-time. Even with my dad cleaning carpets on Fridays after session would adjourn for the week, the business essentially shut down for four months of the year, resulting in a loss of business of about 40%. It was a hefty hit, until I was able to handle the work when dad was at the Capitol. For those who operate small family-run companies with few or no additional employees, keeping their business running while being a legislator can be difficult, but it's an important perspective to have in the Legislature.

Is cutting legislative salaries a good idea? Given that other areas of government have had cuts in the last several years, maybe so. Should they be dropped further than this level? I don't believe that they should. There is something to be said for common citizens being able to serve in the legislature rather than just the wealthy elite.

1 comment:

  1. That is the one bit of good news I've heard this November. I shared it on Facebook making sure you got the credit for bringing the information to us. Many thanks Jamison


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