What are State Legislators Worth?

March 06, 1994

For part-time lawmakers who must attend to their work only 90 days a year, Maryland's delegates and senators in the General Assembly make good money. The rate is now $28,000 a year. A commission wants that boosted by $1,700 over two years. It's a puny amount, far less than inflation. But in this age of public skepticism toward elected officials, any pay raise is controversial.

What are state legislators worth? Up until 1975, state lawmakers received the munificent sum of $2,400 -- clearly inadequate even to cover expenses, not to mention the long hours put in during session and time away from a job. Legislators point out they expend considerable effort throughout the year helping constituents and attending off-session meetings. A growing number of incumbents devote full-time to their political office.

It shouldn't be full-time. Maryland has a citizen legislature, one that benefits enormously from having its delegates and senators return to their communities for nine months to earn a living, get reacquainted with their neighbors and confront some of the real problems affecting Marylanders. Ninety days is a long enough session for them to handle the problems of the state from a legislative standpoint. The governor, after all, is the one who's supposed to run the state all year.

So what should part-timers be paid? Twenty-eight thousand is on the high side. It places Maryland 12th among the best-paid U.S. legislatures -- and most of those at the top meet year-round. But asking this legislature to reduce the salary of the 1995-1998 General Assembly is like asking the sun to stop shining: It won't happen.

Given that reality, the salary commission's recommendations are sensibly modest: a 3 percent raise in 1995 and another 3 percent in 1996, but no raises in 1997 and 1998. That comes to 1.5 percent a year during the four years. This will give the next group of lawmakers an extra $29 a week in compensation while in office.

It's such a slim reward that lawmakers won't keep pace with increases in the consumer price index. That's for the good. Legislative salaries had gotten too generous. This way, most elected officials will have to maintain a job beyond their legislative duties. We don't need a year-round General Assembly, and we surely don't need full-time legislators. The salary commission's $1,700 pay raise ensures this won't happen in the next four years.

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