Few Nebraskans have gone 24 years without a raise in pay, despite tight economic times and the present difficult job situation.
It’s time to talk about fairness, about attracting solid, broadly representative candidates to serve the people of Nebraska. It’s time to raise the pay of members of the Legislature.
Let’s put the knee-jerk negative reaction aside. It’s easy to mutter about faceless “politicians” and a do-nothing, gridlocked Congress.
But this isn’t about Congress, however angry many people may be, and it’s not about those Washington-size salaries: $174,000 for rank-and-file lawmakers. It’s not about the outsized salaries paid to legislators in other states — New York’s $79,500 or Illinois’ $67,836, for example.
It’s about 49 Nebraska state senators who meet in 60- or 90-day sessions each year, who consider hard questions and make difficult decisions, who regularly work together, discussing and compromising and solving problems.
And who make $12,000 a year but haven’t had a raise since 1988.
That’s a salary that hasn’t even come close to keeping up with inflation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator, that $12,000 would be $23,368 today if lawmakers had gotten annual cost-of-living increases.
Voters should approve Proposed Amendment 4, which would raise state legislators’ pay to $22,500 a year. That’s a reasonable adjustment for salaries not raised in 24 years.
Nebraska needs smart, able, even-tempered and thoughtful public servants in its Legislature, people from all backgrounds who will take time out of their lives and careers to serve their fellow citizens.
It’s not everyone who is willing — or able, for that matter — to spend several months each year in Lincoln, live and work away from home, family and job, and take on duties that can be complex, frustrating and sometimes unpopular.
Sure, serving in the Nebraska Legislature is still part-time work, in the mold of the old-time farmer-legislator who tilled the fields then put aside his plow to journey to the State Capitol to make momentous decisions. But it’s no longer so simple.
Lawmaking is a full-time job when the Legislature is in session, 90 days one year, 60 the next. And when it’s not in session, legislators still must formulate legislation and deal with committee work, constituent meetings, phone calls and other demands, as well as special sessions.
Mike Flood of Norfolk, the current speaker of the Legislature, said the pay complicates getting a diverse mix of ages and occupations in the body. Most people with regular jobs just can’t afford to take several months off each year to serve. A somewhat bigger paycheck might make it easier for more people to get involved.
The last time the issue came before Nebraska voters was in 2006. That proposal would have increased lawmakers’ salaries to $21,000, but it also would have made future increases automatic. The latter provision may have been what doomed the proposal.
This time, Amendment 4 wouldn’t tamper with the provision that says an election still would be required to approve any future increase. Voters would remain the boss.
Pay raises for lawmakers are usually a hard sell, more so in shaky economic times.
But this increase is an important move that could help more Nebraskans become involved in the Legislature and keep it a strong elective body that’s representative of all of the different people who make up the state.
When they go to the polls on Nov. 6, voters should cast their ballots FOR Proposed Amendment 4 to raise state senators’ salaries.