On Tuesday, the Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials recommended big pay raises for most state elected officials. Under the Commission’s plan, legislators would receive an 11 percent raise, bringing salaries to nearly $40,000, plus a 25 percent bump in per diem. Statewide officials, including the governor and attorney general, would receive an eight percent raise.
The Commission’s recommendations automatically take effect unless two-thirds of the legislature votes to disapprove them. On December 1, I will file just such a resolution.
Missouri state employees are among – if not the – lowest-paid in the entire country. In four years as your state representative, I have worked to increase state employee pay. The goal is not to put Missouri state employee pay among the ranks of California, New York, or New Jersey, where high costs-of-living and liberal state governments balloon government salaries to outpace the private sector. Instead, it is to set state salaries in line with our cost-of-living. (Current data from DED has Missouri as the 17th cheapest place to live in the country.)
In four years, state employees have benefitted from modest, but steady increases. Overall, state employee salaries have increased by more than six percent in these years. In the four years prior, I believe they stayed stagnant.
It’s not enough. Fighting for increases every year is like pulling teeth from a tiger. Until pay for state employee pay in Missouri is commensurate with our cost-of-living ranking, I won’t agree to a pay increase for elected officials.
Beyond this basic issue of fairness, however, I would still oppose an increase. Under current law, state representatives and senators earn around $36,000 a year. We’re only in session from January to May, which suggests it’s a five-month a year job. It’s not. When you add all the time up, it’s probably more like nine to ten months a year depending on how active you are as a legislator. That’s more than most people expect, but it’s still not full-time year-round job that requires a person to report for work every day from nine to five.
The current salary is just a little less than the average state employee salary. If you assume a two-worker household, it’s well above the median income for the state. Missouri legislator salaries put us far from the poor-house. Compare the work we do and the salaries we receive with that of other state employees. A Youth Specialist in the Department of Social Services working to help juvenile offenders get on the right track makes a little more than $26,000 a year. A corrections officer makes approximately $28,000 a year. Public health lab scientists earn $36,000 a year. These, and other, full-time state employees deserve an 11 percent raise more than any legislator does.
And let’s state the obvious, while it has drudgeries just like any other job, serving in the legislature is an incredible honor. Legislators get to fight every day from January to May for what all they believe to be right and just. Plus, there’s always something new to learn. For active legislators, the job has more moments of defeat than victory. (Our constitutional system is brilliantly and purposefully designed to make it hard to pass new laws.) But, when things work out, it is also incredibly uplifting.
What we do in the state legislature is important, but it does not require higher pay to encourage qualified people to run for the office. It will always involve sacrifice for Missourians with higher earning potential. There’s simply no feasible way to increase salaries high enough to attract more high-earners to the job, and that shouldn’t be the objective anyway because then the job ceases to be a public service.
It’s amazing what happens after a person is elected: their jokes get funnier and their wits more keen. Everyone wants to be their friend. These jobs already attract those likely to think a little too highly of themselves. The sycophancy which so often envelops the work of a legislator makes it worse. It is far too easy already for legislators to develop a sense of entitlement.
Keeping elected official pay modest requires many state representatives and senators to maintain employment in the real world. Yes, it would be more convenient for legislators if their elected position paid enough to not worry about the things that concern the average Missourian. But then we’d lose the primary benefit of the citizen legislature, and we’d attract people seeking the job as a lucrative career path, and not for the right reasons of public service. Missouri government would become a little more like Washington – which is the last thing we need. For these reasons, you can count on my vote to reject the recommended pay increases for elected officials.