Legislator pay raise no scandal

Published 8:45 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2009

In one of the worst economic periods our country has ever seen, our state legislators are getting another pay raise. Before we march to Goat Hill with torches and pitchforks, though, let’s consider the background of the situation.

We can debate how much lawmakers deserve to make and whether their pay should be tied to the consumer price index, which was made the case with a 2007 act and is the reason for this year’s $150 a month raise. There is no denying that, considering the timing, the raise that kicked in Wednesday looks bad. Before 2007, there was no automatic pay increase tied to CPI, and a vote on it today probably wouldn’t pass.

But tying compensation to something is necessary. Legislators are understandably slow to vote themselves raises because of the threat of a public backlash at the polls. And raises are necessary in public service, just like any other profession, because of increases in the cost of living. Politicians shouldn’t run for office to get rich, but the prospect of losing money, instead of earning it, in a certain position is certainly no incentive for anyone to consider that line of work.

And no one is at the Capitol because it’s the best way to make a buck. “If you’re coming to Montgomery to get rich, you’re in bad shape or you’re in the penitentiary,” State Rep. Jimmy Martin said.

The increase brings legislators’ compensation to $4,108 per month on top of $50 per day for up to three days they meet and $10 per each calendar day that is base salary.

Law making is a job requiring all-day work, each day of the year, and tying pay increases to something objective, such as CPI, is the only fair way to compensate our lawmakers – recession or not.