The state Board on Legislative Compensation voted Tuesday to increase lawmakers’ pay by 35%.
It’s an embarrassing and disproportionate increase that is neither justified nor appropriate.
Two years ago, when the same board cut legislative pay by 8.8%, we argued that the state wouldn’t get better legislators by paying them less. We stand by that argument, but the hike approved Tuesday is simply too much — a disproportionate overstatement of the value of Oklahoma’s representatives and senators.
Most Oklahomans have never gotten a 35% raise. Those who did recognized it as a reward for excellent work. But the rules to compensation following performance don’t seem to apply to legislators.
Under the increase, which goes into effect after the next election, the base pay for legislators will go from $35,021 a year to $47,500. Key legislative leaders will get more. Lawmakers who live outside the Oklahoma City area also receive a generous per-diem for days that the Legislature is in session.
Appointed by top legislative leaders and the governor and representing specific constituencies and segments of the economy, the decisions of the legislative compensation board are essentially final. They aren’t subject to routine legislative or voter review short of a constitutional amendment. State law prevents any further changes to the pay of elected officials after their term in office begins.
The obvious contrast of our already well-paid Legislature is to our relatively poorly paid teachers and state employees. There’s also a contrast to the pay in surrounding states. Oklahoma legislators will earn substantially more than their peers in every state bordering the state. In Texas, the base pay for lawmakers is only $7,200 a year.
We would hope that the pay raise will mean Oklahoma will get a 35% better Legislature. Despite the low baseline established by the current crew in Oklahoma City, we see no reason to think that will happen.