Legislative salaries need to be raised

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Nothing can raise the hackles of the average working Joe than the mention of politicians and money. Say that politicians should be paid more -- and well, them are fightin' words.

But, come the May 2 primary, we'll have the chance to put our votes where our mouths are.

Amendment One calls for increasing each Nebraska Legislator's salary from $12,000 to $21,000 per year. In addition, it would be adjusted each year based on changes in the consumer price index, but never more than 4 percent per year.

The recently formed Yes for Amendment One committee makes some good points in favor of the amendment:

* Nebraska's State Senator salary is well below those in surrounding states and far below the national average of $30,000.

* The current $12,000 salary breaks down to about $5.68 per hour, or only 50 cents over minimum wage.

* The proposal would cost each Nebraskan only an additional 16 cents each year.

* State Senators' salaries have not been raised since 1988, when voters approved a raise from $4,800 to $12,000. If the proposed consumer price increase would have been in effect since then, the salary would be $21,061, slightly higher than the current proposal.

* While senators do receive a per diem for expenses and mileage when the Legislature is in session, they do not receive health insurance or other benefits from the state, nor reimbursement while they are in their districts conducting legislative business.

* According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Nebraska senators work more than two-thirds of the time.

But the most important reason for higher salaries is the enactment of term limits in Nebraska. With only 1.7 million people in the state, we need to make public offices as accessible as possible for as many people as possible.

Higher salaries would make it possible for a wider variety of citizens to consider running for the Legislature, not just those who are independently wealthy or those who are willing to live as paupers.

The only reasonable objection we would consider is tying the automatic salary increase to the consumer price index -- a standard some object to as unrealistic and inflationary.

Objection noted. But it is not enough to outweigh the need for more just compensation for our representatives in Lincoln.

Amendment One should be approved.

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