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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Ind. Gov't. - Could this be a coincidence?

Could this be a coincidence? So far I've read three stories today, from different parts of the state, all making a point that Indiana legislators are poorly paid.

From the Lafayette Journal and Courier, a story comparing the salary of "Purdue President Martin Jischke [who] was the highest paid state employee in Indiana in fiscal year 2005-06 with a base annual salary of $387,550" and that of "State Rep. Brian Bosma, [who was] speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives the past two years, [who] was listed at $50,964."

From the Indianapolis Star's "Behind Closed Doors,' under the heading "The Statehouse: big on glory, low on pay: Base pay for lawmakers hasn't changed since 1985, and the House speaker says it's tough to recruit people for office," and featuring remarks by House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer:

The legislative base pay is $11,600, which hasn't been changed since 1985, when it was increased from $8,000 annually. In addition to the base pay, lawmakers receive daily expense pay of $137 when they are in session and $54.80 per day when they are out of session. Some lawmakers also receive additional pay for serving in leadership positions.

That brought the average pay in 2005 to $44,954 -- a figure lawmakers say is misleading because much of that is eaten by expenses. [Isn't everyone's?]

Lawmakers have promised to eliminate a controversial health-care plan and to reconsider a controversial pension plan that gives them $4 of taxpayer money for every $1 they contribute.
However, in eliminating those perks, legislative leaders in the House and Senate said they might re-examine the whole legislative pay package.

Bauer said the low pay has made it hard to recruit candidates. "We cannot continue to beat up this institution," he said.

Told that the Illinois Legislature recently boosted its pay from $57,000 annually to $63,000, Bauer said: "Repeat those high numbers. Say it out (loud). Shout it out. What do you want me to say about that? I should move to Illinois?"

The headline to this story by Patrick Guinane in the NWI Times is: "Legislative pay paltry in Indiana: Illinois lawmakers to make $63,143, compared to $11,600 in Indiana." Some quotes:
For more than two decades now, the 150 members of the Indiana General Assembly have earned a base salary of $11,600, a relative pittance compared to legislative pay in neighboring states. Comparison shoppers need look no further than Illinois, where lawmakers recently approved a 9-percent, post-election pay raise that would increase legislative salaries from $57,619 to $63,143.

"We could send them five senators for that," said Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond.

The comment underscores the general response of shock and awe that Indiana lawmakers conveyed when told what their Illinois counterparts are bringing home.

"I've been looking into a transfer to Michigan, where the base salary is ($79,650)," joked Rep. Duane Cheney, D-Portage. * * *

The late Gov. Frank O'Bannon, a Democrat, vetoed raises of $7,400 in 2001. An independent commission recommended a legislative pay hike to $30,000 in 2004, but the suggestion was ignored amid sagging state finances and a contested governor's race.

The $11,600 base salary also must be put into context. Like counterparts in other states, Indiana legislators receive mileage reimbursements, expense allowances -- $54.80 to $137 a day -- and a select few earn leadership bonuses of up to $6,500. All told, no Indiana legislator took home less than $37,000 last year, and the average compensation was $44,363.

But those reimbursements, legislators said, don't make up for their paltry starting pay.

Lawmakers hold the power to raise their own pay, but many fear repercussions at the polls.

Sen. Robert Garton, R-Columbus, provides a cautionary tale. He led the Senate for 26 years but was ousted in the May primary after refusing to follow then-House Speaker Brian Bosma's decision to cancel a controversial health care plan that offers deeply discounted insurance to retiring legislators and dependents.

"(Garton) lost on that issue alone, but because of his loyalty to his colleagues in the Senate, he bit that bullet," said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary.

Long, who succeeded Garton as Senate leader, has decided to end the health care program. And legislators could face additional pressure next year to dismantle their pension plan.

A move to permanently eliminate those perks, which legislators say were created to balance their meager salaries, could spark a larger debate this year. Still, lawmakers aren't holding their collective breath.

"It's a difficult subject," Long admitted. "It's one that people run for cover on."

A sidebar to the Times story reports:
Illinois figures include 9.3 percent pay raises that have been approved but not yet budgeted. Indiana statewide office salaries include $12,000 housing bonuses.

Illinois legislators receive a $125 per diem on session days. Indiana legislators receive $137/day, seven days a week during session, and $54.80, seven days a week the rest of the year. Illinois legislators receive leadership bonuses of $9,612 to $25,576. Indiana has far fewer bonuses, which range from $1,000 to $6,500.

Both states also reimburse for trips to and from the Statehouse; the rate is 44.5-cents per mile in Indiana.

How does it compare with other states? Michigan pays legislators a base salary of $79,650 a year. It's $45,569 in Wisconsin and $21,380 in Iowa.

What is missing here? The figures quoted above by the Times are from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). But what is missing is looking at the various states' legislative salaries within the content of "Full- and Part-Time Legislatures." The NCSL has a valuable page doing just that. It categorizes legislatures by the percentage of a full time job their work consumes.

For instance: "Red legislatures require the most time of legislators, usually 80 percent or more of a full-time job. They have large staffs. In most Red states, legislators are paid enough to make a living without requiring outside income." Michigan falls into this category: Illinois and Wisconsin fall into a subdivision labeled "red-lite."

Iowa falls into a category identified as: "Legislatures in these states typically say that they spend more than two-thirds of a full time job being legislators. Although their income from legislative work is greater than that in the Blue states, it's usually not enough to allow them to make a living without having other sources of income."

Where is Indiana? Farther down the scale, with the other "citizen legislatures." According to the NCSL: "In the Blue states, average lawmakers spends the equivalent of half of a full-time job doing legislative work. The compensation they receive for this work is quite low and requires them to have other sources of income in order to make a living. The blue states have relatively small staffs. They are often called traditional or citizen legislatures and they are most often found in the smallest population, more rural states."

A second table on the NCSL page compares average job time, compensation, and staff size by caegory of legislature.

So the two factors - "compensation" on the one hand, and the issue of "full-time vs. citizen legislature" on the other - would seem to be inextricably tied. Like the chicken and the egg, the question is: which comes first.

[A final note for now: Some where I read an editorial or opinion piece within the past few years talking about how the General Assembly should set out its pay in a straight-forward manner, like that of other state employees -- when I locate it, I will post it.]

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 26, 2006 08:07 AM
Posted to Indiana Government | Legislative Benefits