Some of the first bills considered in any given legislative session are those which appropriate the pay for our elected officials. These bills always attract a lot of attention because it’s fashionable to resent the money paid to politicians, but they’ve never bothered me that much.
For one, these salaries represent a vanishingly small portion of our state budget. For another, these people do actually work very hard whether you like their job performance or not. Paying them skimpy salaries, frankly, lowers the incentive for quality people to run while increasing the incentive for elected officials to enrich themselves through other means which may not be in keeping with the public’s trust.
Still, what our elected leaders make for serving the public is always of great interest to the public.
In the coming session, both lawmakers and statewide elected officials stand to make more based on legislation already filed in Bismarck.
The bill concerning legislative pay is HB1001. There are three important areas concerning how lawmakers are paid: 1) Their daily pay for serving during the actual legislative session; 2) Their monthly pay and 3) extra pay for legislators who are in leadership positions.
HB1001 raises the pay for lawmakers in each year of the coming biennium which begins on July 1st of 2015 and ends on June 30th of 2017. Here’s a chart showing current pay, and the percentage increase in each category by the end of the biennium (lawmakers are also reimbursed for travel and lodging expenses):
As you can see, lawmakers really don’t make that much money. At current level a lawmaker would make about $5,604 per year in a 12 month period when the legislature isn’t in session. They get paid for every calendar day when they’re in session, including weekends and holidays (in 2013 the lawmakers were paid for 124 calendar days for a total of $20,708 for non-leadership lawmakers, plus expenses and their monthly pay.
Update: I originally indicated that lawmakers are only paid for days they’re in session. That was wrong. They get paid for every calendar day they’re in session. Post as been edited to reflect the correction.
Leadership gets their pay on top of the regular legislative pay.
Given the amount of time lawmakers put into attending the session for four months every other year, plus attending to committee and constituent duties in the interim, what they get is really a pittance. Of course, on top of this pay, lawmakers also qualify for state health benefits after taking office, so there’s that. Which is a pretty big incentive.
Update: A lawmaker emails to point out that for expenses they don’t get meal reimbursements. They do get reimbursed for housing at the state rate, and it drops to 70 percent of the state rate during the session.
Statewide Elected Officials
Currently only three of North Dakota’s ten statewide elected officials make a salary in the six figures. If proposed legislation for pay increases goes through, all of them would be north of six figures (you can look at the legislation for each office here, the bills are SB2001 – SB2010).
Here’s the breakdown. The bills increase spending in two steps (a pay increase for each year of the biennium). What you see below is current pay, and then what pay would be after the second increase of the biennium if the legislation passes.
Update: I misread the current salaries in the law for the statewide elected officials, producing inaccurate percentage increases. If you look at the bills, the salaries are written out in words instead of numerals and then they’re crossed out to reflect changes so it’s hard to read. But my mistake. These are now the correct numbers.
As you can see, the executive branch elected officials make a lot more than the lawmakers do. Which on one hand is fair because they work year-around, but there’s also the question of balance between the two branches of government. We have a part-time, low paid legislature which is supposed to serve as a check and balance on a full-time, well-paid executive branch?
I’ll stop short of calling for a full-time legislature, but there’s an imbalance of power on display here which is always worth keeping in mind.