Editorial by Burlington Times-News, February 15, 2017.
Give ’em a raise. That’s the bottom line on lawmakers’ bottom line, which is that they’re working for peanuts.
Peanuts is what we get back, you say? Well, in some cases, true. But for the most part, what we get is pretty decent oversight of billions of taxpayer dollars every year.
That’s why we’re inclined to go along with Marvin Lucas, the longtime Democratic state representative from Spring Lake, and three of his Republican colleagues, who are sponsoring a bill that would give state lawmakers a substantial raise — as much as 58 percent, by some calculations.
But those calculations, like some views of current pay, include the “per diem” and travel pay that lawmakers get while they’re in session. And most salary descriptions only include the taxable portions, not the travel, food and lodging expenses that most General Assembly members must pay because they live a substantial distance from Raleigh.
The taxable paycheck that most lawmakers get today amounts to just over $20,000. They’d do better if they worked at the local Walmart. These are, however, part-time jobs. At least that’s how it looks on paper. In odd-numbered years like this one, they have a long session that, among other things, comes up with a two-year budget for state government. Long sessions can last well into the fall. In even-numbered years, the short sessions start in the spring and can be adjourned by sometime in July.
But the reality is that most state senators and representatives are working year-round, attending meetings in their districts, taking phone calls from constituents and serving as a liaison between their communities and state government. Those who suggest that we need a full-time state legislature, given this state’s size and growth, are overlooking the fact that most legislators are already working full time — for pay that realistically floats around minimum wage.
But many have this in common: They’re older and they stick around in Raleigh for a long time. If the job paid better, more bright, young professionals might be able to offer their service. And we might get better government as a result.
So let’s give ’em a raise. We might all profit from it.