Capitol Assets Legislators Paid Fairly, 16-State Survey Suggests

Article excerpt

State legislators don't need higher salaries.

That's the conclusion of legislative leaders, who have collected some surprising data showing that the salaries compare favorably with those of legislators in similar states.

Missouri's $25,286-a-year salaries rank fifth out of the 16 legislatures that meet three to five months a year. Senate President Pro Tem James Mathewson, D-Sedalia, said a big pay boost could attract candidates who want the job for the money instead of the rewards of public service. His Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Franc Flotron of Chesterfield, saw other negative consequences of a raise: It could lead to a full-time, professional Legislature. The Legislature meets 3 1/2 days a week from January to mid-May. Most legislators have other jobs. Flotron said that that keeps legislators connected to real-world problems. Flotron told a salary commission last week: "If you tripled our salaries, we'd find some way to spend more time here because we wouldn't need a real-world job." The compensation commission, approved by state voters in November 1994, will set salaries for statewide elected officials, judges and state legislators. State Budget Director Mark Ward told the commission that all those salaries combined cost $35 to $40 million. A 10 percent across-the board increase would cost about $3.8 million, Ward said. "That's a lot of money at the margins, but in the larger context of state government, it's not that significant," he said. Legislative salaries are competitive for one reason: In 1984, legislators passed a bill giving themselves automatic cost-of-living increases each year - the same percentage that the rest of the state worker force gets. That got legislators off the hook, so they wouldn't have to cast sensitive votes on their own pay. Over the last 10 years, the automatic increase has boosted legislators' pay by 40 percent. This July, it will guarantee legislators a $1,517 raise. Legislative pay is better in states where the legislature is a f ull-time job. According to a report by Karl T. Kurtz for the Center for the Study of American Politics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, nine states fit into that group. The highest-paid legislators are in California, where they pull down $75,600 a year. Kurtz found true "citizen legislatures" in 18 states, where low-paid legislatures meet infrequently. At the bottom is New Hampshire, which pays $200 for a two-year term. Kurtz put Missouri in a hybrid group - states where the legislature has characteristics of both the professional and the citizen legislature. While Missouri legislators meet only 4 1/2 months a year, the workload doesn't stop at the session's end. Legislators told the commission that they are hit with constituents' questions everywhere and every day, in churches and cafes, from early morning through all hours of the night. …


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