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I Could Get a Pay Raise if I Could Get Elected to the Legislature

Legally, a review of compensation of state employees including elected officials must occur soon. Each of the past two years, the board responsible for this report, the Compensation Review Commission, has recommended a raise for Louisiana officials.

Last year, the Commission called for an increase to a flat $41,000 a year salary plus per diem for legislators who are not among the top leaders of each chamber. Currently, including only the base annual salary of $16,800, the per diem of $113 a day (for 2005) and 145 days in session per two years, and the $6,000 a year in unvouchered office expenses, a legislator will make $30,992.50 a year.

Note that this does not include any extra per diem for committee meetings outside the regular sessions, nor any special session renumeration, nor any mileage expenses (40.5 cents a mile). Throw in those things and a typical Shreveport-area legislator can expect to make $35,000 a year.

However, this level is not out of line with what is being done in other states. The National Conference of State Legislatures classifies Louisiana in the middle category of state legislatures in terms of demands made upon them. It reports a Louisiana legislator’s job as 70 percent equivalent of a full-time job, so at the basic case that is the equivalent to $44,275. That’s not bad pay. While many of our legislators do have other, real occupations to supplement this, others do live off their legislative salaries (although some of these also are enjoying retirement benefits simultaneously from other careers).

The Commission’s latest proposal would create a basic package worth, at a full-time equivalent, $70,275 a year (its actual number being $49,192.50). The NCSL average for states in Louisiana’s category is only $35,326 (in 2003). In short, the Commission wishes to pay Louisiana legislators about 40 percent higher than the average for like legislators.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco threatened to veto any pay increases last year but as left the door open this year for them by saying she’d want to see teacher salary increases before one for state elected officials. Considering that Louisiana ranks so poorly in so many indicators and faces a deficit next year in the $500 million range, neither the money is there, nor has the Legislature earned, any increase in compensation whatsoever.

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