Summer Sale! Get unlimited digital access for 13 weeks for $13.
Editorial
News Opinion Editorial

Raising legislative pay [Editorial]

With public approval ratings for most political figures suffering these days — Congress is hovering around 9 percent, an all-time low — and unemployment still relatively high, it's probably not the best time for elected officials of any kind to seek a pay raise. Yet legislative salaries are now under review in Annapolis and are likely to become an issue in the upcoming legislative session.

Lawmaker pay is an easy target for criticism. Rare is the voter who is left wide awake at night fretting that his delegate or state senator is paid too little. More common is the individual who simply wishes elected officials were paid by merit (and strongly suspects there's considerable savings to be found there on the local, state and federal levels).

But legislative compensation is actually a serious issue. What's needed are salaries that encourage qualified people, whether they are rich or working class, to seek elected office but not so much that they are tempted to take up the profession as a full-time career. We also want to insulate these part-time law-givers from the economic entreaties of special interest groups but not pay them so lavishly that they might regard themselves as a ruling class.

This week, the General Assembly Compensation Commission recommended that delegates and senators be paid 16 percent more over the next four years, or slightly more than $50,000 per year by 2018. Four percent more each year might seem too generous, but the commission also recommended that lawmakers contribute 2 percent more of their salaries to their pension fund, and this would be the first pay raise they've seen in eight years.

How does it stack up with surrounding states? According to a report released last month by the Department of Legislative Services, the current salary of $43,500 is less than what state lawmakers are paid in Pennsylvania and Delaware but more than in Virginia and West Virginia. It is fairly typical of Mid-Atlantic states.

Presiding officers would continue to receive more — but not all that much more. The Senate president and House of Delegates speaker would see their pay rise from $56,500 to $65,371.

Given that lawmakers preside over a state government with more than 70,000 employees and a budget exceeding $30 billion, it's remarkably modest compensation. Of course, most hold a second job, and there are perks included — food and housing during the 90-day session as well as health and retirement benefits.

Still, it's hard to view these as overly generous, even by public sector standards. Baltimore's City Council president earns a six-figure salary. So do Montgomery County Council members. Those are considered part-time jobs as much as any in the General Assembly. Some of Maryland's best-paid school superintendents and state's attorneys earn four or five times as much as state legislators, albeit working full-time in the job (not counting those weekend trips to Chicago by Baltimore County's Dallas Dance) — with cars and drivers often tossed in.

Would freezing the salaries of delegates and senators cause profound economic hardship? Probably not, at least not for most. But there could be a subtle effect, a pressure brought to bear to discourage all but the well-off and those so-called "professional politicians" who seek a full-time career in politics to aspire to the job.

Even now, it's challenging for lawmakers to be excused from their jobs for 90 days. That's one reason why a relatively high percentage of delegates and senators are lawyers or self-employed. That's not necessarily bad, but the list of lawmakers who are farmers (2) steamship clerks (1) and social workers (1) is rather short.

Surely, the greater the diversity of lawmakers in Annapolis, the greater the chance they will govern in a more thoughtful manner. A farmer better understands the plight of farmers, a minister knows the issues facing churches, a non-profit worker the challenges facing charities, yet the General Assembly currently has three times as many lawyers as all of the above.

Raising salaries so slightly won't change that, but it probably won't aggravate the situation either — as a continued pay freeze or a big increase might. Raising salaries in Annapolis may not be the most politically popular cause around, but it's probably a necessity.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Raise legislators salaries [Letter]

    Raise legislators salaries [Letter]

    Regarding your recent editorial about state lawmakers' salaries, as far back as the late 1960s an independent group from Rutgers University evaluated Maryland General Assembly members' pay and concluded that the then salary of $2,400 a year should be increased to $11,000 and the length of sessions...

  • Term limits for 'Good Old Boys' [Letter]

    Term limits for 'Good Old Boys' [Letter]

    Regarding your recent editorial on state lawmakers' salaries, you write that the pay for part-time members of the General Assembly needs to be raised modestly in order "to maintain a diverse, part-time legislature" ("Raising legislative pay," Dec. 18).

  • What legislators should do to earn their pay [Letter]

    What legislators should do to earn their pay [Letter]

    Marylanders should consider supporting higher pay for lawmakers in Annapolis only when legislators start supporting term limits for themselves.

  • Batts on officers "taking a knee" [Poll]

    Batts on officers "taking a knee" [Poll]

    Is former Baltimore police commissioner Anthony Batts write that officers “took a knee” after April’s riots?

  • Iran agreement stands

    Iran agreement stands

    President Barack Obama won a major victory this week when Maryland's Barbara Mikulski, after much deliberation, became the 34th U.S. senator to announce her support for the nuclear accord with Iran. Senator Mikulski's pledge to back the president's veto of an expected Republican-sponsored resolution...

  • Mandel's civil rights legacy

    Mandel's civil rights legacy

    I have greatly appreciated the near-universal and thunderous praise bestowed upon former Gov. Marvin Mandel, who died on Sunday at the age of 95. Governor Mandel provided brilliant and visionary leadership during his 10 years as our governor, and many of his achievements, including the reorganization...

  • Shattered lives

    Shattered lives

    The headline over Sunday's report on Baltimore's spike in homicides during the month of July read "45 murders in 31 days." It was a record readers of The Sun were already aware of, but we suspect too many of us viewed it with trepidation but not enough empathy. After so many years of violence,...

  • Post-Freddie Gray, two poles of Baltimore leadership

    Post-Freddie Gray, two poles of Baltimore leadership

    The return of the Freddie Gray case to center stage in Baltimore yesterday offered us personifications of the two poles of our city's experience of the last few months. In former Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, who resurfaced for a panel discussion two months after he was fired, we got a reminder...

Comments
Loading
75°