Legislators should be paid more

Monday, March 28, 2005

If you are rich or poor, Nebraska's current legislative pay rate of $12,000 per year is sufficient for you to run for the Unicameral. But, for everyone in between, the minimum pay scale is not adequate. An average person can't afford to get by with a $1,000 a month, especially if he or she has a family.

For that reason, we believe the Nebraska Legislature needs to submit a constitutional amendment to the people asking that the pay for state senators be increased to $2,000 a month. Such a plan is now on select file in the Legislature, awaiting floor debate.

If the pay proposal should win approval in the Legislature, the constitutional amendment would go before Nebraska voters, probably in the 2006 general election in November.

As an example of why the pay increase is needed, you need look no farther than the 44th District in Southwest Nebraska. This area's senator, Tom Baker of Trenton, cannot run again because of the term limits law. Therefore, very soon, the area will be searching for candidates to replace him. So far, no one has stepped forward.

"I have asked several people to consider running," Sen. Baker said this morning, "but so far everyone has said no." In Baker's opinion, part of the reason is the senators' low pay rate.

"I have my own business (Trails West in Trenton), so I'm able to make it. But it costs, because I have to hire people to take my place at the business while I'm in Lincoln."

Other potential candidates may not be as fortunate, because it's almost a certainty they will have to dip into their own pockets to subsidize their service in the state senate.

Senators do get expense money, which helps pay for trips back and forth to Lincoln, but they do not receive the other fringe benefits which come with most jobs, such as a pension or health insurance benefits.

The pay rate for state senators needs to be increased to $2,000 a month. The current salary level, $1,000 a month, is not adequate for a person of average means. By increasing the amount, Nebraskans will make it possible for more candidates to consider running for the Legislature.

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