Oregon Senate moves closer to approving major salary increases for lawmakers – Oregon Capital Chronicle
Oregon lawmakers moved closer to granting a big raise on Tuesday, with a Senate panel voting 3-2 to advance a proposal that would nearly double their salaries and provide childcare benefits.
After Tuesday’s vote by the Senate Rules Committee, Senate Bill 1566 must still approve the Senate budget drafting committee and pass the full Senate, before facing the same scrutiny in the House. If successful, the plan would increase the statutory salary from just under $33,000 to around $58,500 starting in January 2023.
Proponents of the proposal, including Asian American advocacy groups and caregivers who have called on senators to introduce the bill, have described it as a way to make the Legislature look like more to the people it represents. The legislature is older, whiter and wealthier than the state, and supporters argue that low wages and long hours keep workers and parents out.
Sen. James Manning, a Democrat from Eugene who backed the bill, said he believes the Oregon House loses between a third and a half of its representatives in each election because the Legislature doesn’t pay not enough.
He said he spoke with a rep who works two part-time jobs to make ends meet, and he knows others have similar accounts. Personally, Manning said he’s been through two cars since being appointed to the Senate in 2016. He could afford that cost, but not everyone can, he said.
Raising parliamentarians’ salaries and providing childcare for the relatively small number of legislators with young children is the right thing to do, Manning said, though he acknowledged it might not look good for people who are watching.
“Any time you’re trying to do the right thing, the optics are going to be bad,” Manning said. “And if we account for everything we do based on optics, we might as well not even get together.”
Without the proposed increase, Oregon lawmakers already earn more than lawmakers in at least 22 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Lawmakers in seven other states — Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming — are paid by the day or work week and have no annual salary.
The proposed increase would put Oregon in the top 10 highest-paying states. The eight that currently pay more — California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania — all have full-time legislatures.
Oregon legislators meet for up to 160 days during their long session in odd years and up to 35 days in even years. They may also return to Salem throughout the year for interim committee meetings or to deal with emergencies during a special session.
The committee amended the bill to use the state’s average annual salary, rather than the average salary. This raises the estimate from around $57,000 to around $58,500 per year.
Lawmakers could receive raises every two years if the average wage rises, but they would be protected from the full effect of economic downturns. A legislator’s salary could not decrease by more than 2% in any given year.
Additionally, any legislator with a child under 13 would receive up to $9,000 for child care costs over the two-year legislative cycle.
Legislative tax analysts have estimated that the increase in wages and allowances will cost the state nearly $6 million over the two-year budget period that begins in July 2023. The state would begin paying higher wages raised in January 2023, which would cost $1.5 million from the current budget.
In addition to their legislative salaries, legislators receive $151 per day for expenses while the legislature is in session, $400 per month during the months the legislature is not in session, and have access to money from the campaign for other work-related expenses. They also control hiring in their own offices, which some have historically used to pay spouses or children from state coffers.
Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, a Republican from Bend who started serving in the House in 1999, said the salary was around $18,000 when he was elected.
“It’s a minimum wage job when you’re doing this full time,” he said. “I know we tell people it’s not a full-time job, but that’s only when we recruit them to run for office.”
However, Knopp said, he must stick to the principle that voters, not politicians, should set legislative salaries. If voters want lawmakers to be paid more, they should put that to the ballot, he said. In the meantime, he intends to vote against any legislative proposal aimed at increasing his salary.
The other Republican on the committee, Sen. Fred Girod of Stayton, said his constituents are spooked when the Legislative Assembly is in session. A higher salary seems like a step towards a full-time legislature, and he doesn’t want that, he said.
“I just can’t escape the fact that I don’t want people here,” he said. “I don’t want a full-time legislature. I just don’t want to go in that direction.