The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Opinion

March 7, 2012

Legislature still wrestles with pay raise

Birmingham News on legislative salaries:

Two years into a four-year term, the Republican-controlled Legislature still wrestles with the pesky, lawmaker pay raise issue.

In 2007, Democrats, with the help of some Republicans, passed a 61 percent legislative pay raise. They boosted pay from $30,710 a year to $49,550 in a typical year, and added insult to injury with a yearly cost-of-living adjustment.

This, for a part-time job.

The best solution of all, especially after many Republicans used the pay raise as a cudgel in the 2010 campaign, would have been to revoke the pay raise and make adjustments to travel expenses.

Republicans had their chance to do that last year in their first session running both chambers of the Legislature. There was much talk and hand-wringing, and plenty of bills were introduced. As public criticism mounted, most lawmakers declined the automatic COLA. Many others, mostly House Republicans, voluntarily cut their pay 15 percent for the year — to $45,252 for most members — matching the percentage cuts Gov. Robert Bentley ordered in General Fund spending last year.

But in the end, the 2007 pay raise resolution remained in place.

As a result, lawmakers now must decide whether to accept this year's automatic COLA of $1,608 a year that starts in April. That raise, incidentally, would bump up to $55,046 the annual pay for the 45 highest paid lawmakers (aside from leadership positions) in a typical year, The News' David White reported. That would be a year with no special legislative sessions.

Another 73 lawmakers make $52,646 in a typical year. They declined last year's COLA of $792 a year.

This year, Republican leaders have included a pay cut as part of their legislative agenda. It is not what we think is the best solution — revoking the raise. But the bill sponsored by Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, may be the most sensible solution possible, given the politics involved: Many lawmakers in both parties oppose just about any pay cut, from some of those who have been there forever, to new lawmakers who say they ran expecting a certain salary.

Taylor's bill would tie legislative pay to the median household income in Alabama. In 2006 through 2010, the state's median household income was $42,081, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means half of state households made more, while half had less income.

Taylor's bill also would make lawmakers file vouchers for travel and other expenses. Those living within 50 miles of Montgomery would not be reimbursed for travel. ...

It would be nice if Republicans, with their supermajorities in the House and Senate, would get this issue right by rolling back pay to the level before the 2007 raise. But they can get it mostly right by tying legislative pay to the state's median household income and bringing some accountability to expenses. ...

 

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