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17.6.08

Legislators con no one with poor pay raise arguments

The big argument used by the only two speakers in favor of SB 672 in the past week is that with higher paid legislators, you’ll get a broader array of less-harried legislators. Too bad statistics show that’s not true and that, in fact Louisiana legislators already are overpaid and underperform under current standards.

In House debate, Speaker Jim Tucker who set the final parameters of the bill which would jack pay from $16,800 annually to $37,500 per year (retaining the current $143 per diem) and tie it to changes in consumer inflation, said current levels allowed only wealthy individuals to serve and that this level “hampers democracy.” This, of course, is an entire non-sequitur: the point is to get quality individuals in regardless of their background. Further, if that really were the purpose of the bill, to get new blood in, it should have taken effect in 2012, after the next round of elections.

(Tucker also was disingenuous about the source of $37,500 level, saying it came from the state’s Compensation Review Commission. In fact, that 2003 recommendation would scrap the $6,000 annual expense allowance; this bill does not.)

In Senate debate, author Sen. Ann Duplessis (she who enjoys driving a Mercedes-Benz) could not contain her joy when the House version passed her chamber, letting out a cry of victory. She said criticism was misguided and the public did not really understand the amount of work legislators did.

Perhaps not every citizen does, but whether the “work” done is needed or is quality is another matter. Looking at statistics, the latter certainly is not true.

Taking Louisiana along with Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, comparison can be made. First, using their monthly salaries plus per diems to create an annual, relatively speaking one can compare how Louisiana is doing under current and SB 672 standards, noting three things: (1) absolute levels of pay, (2) how much pay there is per capita, and (3) the relationship between per capita income and legislator pay. The argument for increase pay would be buttressed if it could be shown Louisiana legislators were being paid relatively lowly absolutely, adjusted per capita, and relative to their citizens’ earnings.

The table at the top tells it all. (I was generous to all other states: with Mississippi I took their fourth year session-length which is longer than the other three which increases pay; with North Carolina which has no constitutionally-set meeting dates I took the average session length for the past two years; and for Virginia I used Senate pay which is slightly higher than Delegate pay.)

Currently, Louisiana trails only Florida in pay; obviously the new level would put typical Louisiana legislator pay at over $11,000 more a year. In pay per capita, Louisiana currently ranks third trailing only the two states with lower populations Arkansas and Mississippi; the new level would far exceed any of these states and be almost 40 percent higher than Arkansas’. Louisiana now also trails only Florida in pay percent of per capita income where Florida lawmakers make 107 percent of the average resident’s income and Louisiana is at 93 percent, with the increase putting Louisiana’s legislators’ pay at a whopping 160 percent of per capita income – for a job constitutionally defined as part time. And under the bill it will likely increase every year.

That Louisiana already is one of the most generous states already with its legislative pay among its peers should blare warning claxons that no raise is needed. The idea becomes beyond absurd when one considers the return on investment for the current level. One look at hyper-critic C.B. Forgotston’s “Misery Index” with the vast majority of its good categories having Louisiana in the bottom ten states and of its bad categories having the state in the top ten also tells it all: there’s little bang for the buck from the Legislature currently, so why throw good money after bad, especially when peer states for less money are doing far better?

The arguments presented for these raises fail by every metric and therefore legislators making them have as much credibility as Bratney Spears would if she were an underwear saleswoman. The public need not be conned by the self-serving hucksters who voted for SB 672.

1 comment:

Mr Turnbow said...

Mr Sadow, Speaker Tucker used the same wealthy/poor argument that democrats and some republicans in Alabama used last year when they increased their legislative salaries. It sure is interesting how one legislator says something in one state then a few months later. A legislator in the same region pops up and says virtually the exact same thing. Im surprised we dont have more cases of what happened in tennessee back in '02. People up there got so fed up they started circling the capital blowing car horns non stop for about two weeks and a riot nearly broke out and it all happened because their state legislators were literally out of control. They were trying to pass a gas tax,salary increase and implement a state income tax nearly all at once and we later learned in 2005 (thanks to the FBI) that a third of the democrat caucus in their state senate was taking bribes around that time.