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Monday, February 17, 2014

Raise the Minimum State Legislator Wage!

Posted by on Mon, Feb 17, 2014 at 6:00 AM

The Washington State Legislature, like most state legislatures around the country, is made up mainly of middle-aged, well-to-do white guys:

The median age for state lawmakers here is 53... And while the state is 72 percent white and split 50-50 by gender, 90 percent of the state Legislature is white and two-thirds is male.

One contributing factor: the state-mandated salary for a legislator, $42,106 a year. Yes, it's a "part-time" legislature, but in reality these jobs keep legislators busy year-round.

Who wants to leave the private sector for a consuming gig that doesn't even pay the median individual income for Washington State? Too often, it's people who are already wealthy. The Seattle Times reports that in Washington, "one dozen lawmakers reported at least $100,000 in annual income from investments, not jobs."


Comments (28) RSS

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Isn't this more about public financing of elections? Only those with money can afford to run. (And enforcement of real campaign contribution limits)
The idea is to even the playing field during the election. What happens after the election matters less.
Posted by pat L on February 17, 2014 at 6:35 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 2
@1 no, it's not just that. Unless you have a job or career that allows you to vanish to Olympia for weeks--sometimes at the drop of a hat if a special session is called--you can't be a legislator in Olympia, unless you can afford to live on that much money. While it's the US median income, try to maintain a home and family in Seattle on that.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on February 17, 2014 at 6:49 AM · Report this
@1 - it's easy for a compelling candidate to get financial support for their campaign from a variety of sources (their political party, PACs, etc) but almost impossible for a legislator to maintain anything resembling a normal job to support their family.

If you got elected, would your boss let you take off January - March/April every year to serve, plus run back to Olympia for the all-too-frequent Special Sessions?

Legislating is a full-time job and should be treated as such; the citizens commission that sets their salary should be replaced with a formula that sets legislators pay at the state median wage of a comparable workforce (attorneys, perhaps, or university professors? Mid-level dot-com program manager?)

You'd definitely get a broader array of well-qualified candidates if the pay more accurately reflected the amount of work involved and were competitive with the private sector.
Posted by SuperSteve on February 17, 2014 at 7:08 AM · Report this
I've always wondered what kind of job is perfectly fine with you taking several months off, and then another month and another month in the case of one or more special sessions.

Where can I sign up for a job like that?
Posted by Solk512 on February 17, 2014 at 7:24 AM · Report this
seatackled 6
Go to the elections board and file your candidacy papers and you'll have your chance.
Posted by seatackled on February 17, 2014 at 7:51 AM · Report this
@4 What about the employees at Walmart who already have their degree?
Posted by PistolAnnie on February 17, 2014 at 8:08 AM · Report this
@6 No dipshit, I was speaking about the kind of job that will take me back when the individual *isn't* in the legislature. Quit being a fucking idiot.
Posted by Solk512 on February 17, 2014 at 8:09 AM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 9
@4 Are you serious? So whatever stink-ass cracker skills you learned in college or the military only pay you $15 an hour?

You got the shaft, my friend. The shaft.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on February 17, 2014 at 8:11 AM · Report this
@8 your series of comments make no sense.
Posted by PistolAnnie on February 17, 2014 at 8:11 AM · Report this
Sir Vic 11
Will raising the wage for legislators increase the chances that they'll actually do their job and, you know, pass a real budget that funds education?

Currently, the state legislature is failing miserably at the most basic of tasks. Can we be sure that throwing more money at the problem won't just result in Quislings like Rodney Tom enriching themselves and their friends?

I have zero faith in that prospect.
Posted by Sir Vic on February 17, 2014 at 8:18 AM · Report this
fletc3her 12
My first reaction is to recoil at the prospect of paying legislators more. However, I bet if you surveyed people in this state about what they think legislators make and whether it is a full time job or not most would think we already pay them full time.
Posted by fletc3her on February 17, 2014 at 8:21 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 14
This just makes sense to do. To save costs, in tandem, each district should have *A* office, that all of their representatives share. So for example, for the 34th, put an office maybe in Burien or White Center. It's the middle; all three people can share a common staff and facilities. For the 36th, something in Ballard east of 15th. For the 43rd, something just east or north of Lake Union.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on February 17, 2014 at 8:39 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 15
@11 "Will raising the wage for legislators increase the chances that they'll actually do their job and, you know, pass a real budget that funds education?"

It would be interesting if we could get a ballot initiative in that says "Unless WA state funds education per student in any year to at least the Federal average of it's top five academically performing states, the Legislature shall receive no salary."
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on February 17, 2014 at 8:42 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 16
It basically comes down to the fact that right now only the self-employed and/or wealthy can really be WA state legislators. That's not good for the state or society, by so drastically limiting the pool of prospects.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on February 17, 2014 at 8:44 AM · Report this
@11 Part of the problem is that independently wealthy legislators—like Rodney Tom—can outlast the ones who lose a month's pay at their "other" job every time there's a special session. If other legislators need to go home and earn a living, and Rodney Tom doesn't care either way, then guess who's going to force the legislature into overtime more often?
Posted by forbes on February 17, 2014 at 8:48 AM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 18
If Councilmember Sawant had won her 2012 state house bid, she'd only have $2,000 of her salary to donate, instead of $70,000.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on February 17, 2014 at 8:49 AM · Report this
Julie in Eugene 19
We have the same problem in Oregon, only our "part-time" legislators make half what yours do. So, the legislature is primarily made up of (1) retirees, (2) wealthy individuals, or (3) people whose employers have a vested interested in employing a legislator (e.g., lawyers, union leaders). Not exactly a "citizens' legislature".
Posted by Julie in Eugene on February 17, 2014 at 8:50 AM · Report this
Sounds good to me
Posted by dkjndmsahksdhksal on February 17, 2014 at 8:55 AM · Report this
trstr 21
The current US congressional salary is $174,000. Over half of the members of congress are millionaires.

Try again, Eli.
Posted by trstr on February 17, 2014 at 9:04 AM · Report this
MrBaker 22
Tie legislator pay rates to the pay rates of K12 public school teachers.
Posted by MrBaker on February 17, 2014 at 9:16 AM · Report this
seatackled 23

I would have encouraged her to keep that two thousand.
Posted by seatackled on February 17, 2014 at 9:23 AM · Report this
Sir Vic 24
@17 In general theory, I'm in favor of making state legislator a full-time job. It's a difficult and demanding position, and the more time spent at it, the better.
The problem is that we really can't afford to pay what the job is worth. National lobbying groups have made state legislatures a top priority, making a seat in the state House a potentially lucrative position. The insurance industry, ALEC, SEIU, trial lawyers, chamber of commerce, etc., all have money to spend on new sweetheart deals & favorable regulations. Formerly nobody state reps can suddenly find a career track and paid mortgage by sponsoring a bill or two dozen. Bills that tie up committees, deepen political divisions, or misuse public funds.
The reason why so many Congressmen are millionaires? It's a multi-million dollar job. You gotta spend millions to keep it, and use it to make millions. Always helps to have a million or two of your own to start. Subtract a zero, and you've got state legislators.
Posted by Sir Vic on February 17, 2014 at 10:47 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 25
@24 California, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania have the most demanding/full time legislatures.


Their pay…

California: $90,526/year + per diem
Michigan: $71,685/year + per diem
New York: $79,000/year + per diem
Pennsylvania: $78,314/year + per diem
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on February 17, 2014 at 11:46 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 26
What's interesting here -- say we went to Red by this classification. Bump their pay to $80,000, on par for average with the other full time gigs. Increase the average staff to 7 per person instead of the 3 per person it seems to be now. Do my idea for each District to have ONE office in the district and then their Olympia offices. You'd have per district up to 21 supporting staff to interact with the average of 142,273 people per each of the 49 legislative districts. The district staff would be like "central staff" and then the policy people and the legislators would float between the Olympia and District offices. It would certainly be better for us constituents.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on February 17, 2014 at 11:51 AM · Report this
In response to the question about "What kind of job allows the worker to disappear to serve in the state legislature?" the answer is "business owner".
Posted by Charlie Mas on February 17, 2014 at 12:06 PM · Report this
Hrm, so one reason for disproportionately low minority representation in the state leg could be because fewer minorities are independently wealthy enough to live off $42k/hr ?

But, hey, you can always build your political career on the back of bringing semi-professional hockey and a new arena to town....……
Posted by ChefJoe on February 17, 2014 at 1:41 PM · Report this
David Thompson 29
How very populist of you. What about the other 100,000+ state employees who lost 3% of their wages from 2008 to 2012 and have not see a cost of living raise since?
Posted by David Thompson on February 17, 2014 at 3:16 PM · Report this
kk in seattle 30
Twelve of our 147 legislators had investment income of $100,000 or more? So more than 90% are not, you know, wealthy? But it's only the wealthy who can "afford" to live on $40,000 for a couple of months of work a year? This whole post is a sick joke, right?
Posted by kk in seattle on February 17, 2014 at 10:57 PM · Report this

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