Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Hilliard: Texas Lawmakers Get `Sweet Deal'

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Hilliard: Texas Lawmakers Get `Sweet Deal'

Article excerpt

A state House leader quipped Friday that he might not mind changing places with Texas lawmakers, who are paid $7,200 per year, compared to Oklahoma's $38,400.

For one thing, says House Majority Floor Leader Danny Hilliard, D- Sulphur, the Texas Legislature meets only once every two years for about 140 days, serving roughly half the time that Oklahoma representatives and senators meet during their annual sessions. Oklahoma legislators meet for four months each year, from February through May. The Oklahoma Legislature met biennially until the mid- 1960s.

For another thing, Texas representatives receive $10,750 per month -- that's per month -- for office expenses. Lone Star State senators have an even sweeter deal: $25,000 monthly. These funds can be used for paying staff, office rental, buying equipment, paying telephone bills and for official travel.

Oklahoma legislators receive no public funds for district offices.

Talk about sweet deals: Although they contribute only 8 percent of their salary toward their retirement, Texas lawmakers' actual retirement benefits are tied to the pensions of district judges.

In one instance, says Hilliard, a legislator who never received more than $7,200 per year in salary during 39 years' tenure in the Texas Legislature retired with a pension of $92,704 per year.

At the same time, Oklahoma legislators contribute from 4.5 percent to 10 percent of their total salary toward their pension plans. Benefits depend on length of service, final average salary, and contribution rates.

This means that Oklahoma legislators who are now subject to term limits can receive a benefit of less than $20,000 for 12 years of service if they contribute the full 10 percent of their entire salary.

Why is Hilliard so worked up over Texas' lawmakers' salary and perks?

Because of a move by the Oklahoma Legislative Compensation Board last week to freeze legislative pay until 2010, then tie subsequent salary increases to the federal cost-of-living adjustment.

The concept passed the board 3-2, but only as a guideline, and is not binding on future boards. Legislative pay cannot be adjusted during even-numbered years. The board last met in October, voting to keep lawmakers' salary as-is, at $38,400 per year.

The pay freeze was the brainchild of board chair Ken Miller, who has long been critical of the fact that Oklahoma's Legislature tops the nation in pay for a part-time lawmaking body. …

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