The Georgia General Assembly has a handful of avenues to ensure pay raises for Georgia lawmakers for their part-time positions in public service.
Two weeks ago, the Georgia House approved the FY 2023 budget for the state. In it was a $5,000 raise for all elected officials, including state lawmakers who currently earn ~$17,342 annually, plus reimbursements. On that measure, only three lawmakers opposed the increase, likely due to the line item being tucked away in a gargantuan budget.
Those lawmakers included Reps. Philip Singleton (R), Viola Davis (D), and Donna McLeod (D).
In addition to the $17,342 for their 40-day job, lawmakers are entitled to retirement benefits after four terms – or eight years – and they can opt in to the state health benefits plan while they are serving. Elected officials also receive a $173 per diem day reimbursement for days worked as lawmakers outside of the 40-day legislative session in the beginning of the year. Housing expenses and travel are often paid for by campaign funds, as permissible under Georgia law.
But last week, House lawmakers took a giant step toward more than doubling their pay when they voted on HR 842, a resolution to place the matter on the statewide ballot as a constitutional amendment, so voters would decide in the November midterm elections. The resolution would set the salary at 60% of the state’s median household income “as determined by the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor or its successor agency using the most recently available data.”
Since median household incomes fluctuate, the legislation would require that the 60% be adopted at the beginning of each two-year legislative term and not change until the beginning of the term – or following an election cycle. In 2021, the median household income in Georgia was $61,980, which would place legislative salaries at $37,188 annually. The increase would amount to $19,846.
The legislation also allows for ‘salary supplements’ to be provided at the discretion of the General Assembly and ensures that reimbursements, allowances and other forms of compensation are still permissible if voters adopt the increase.
What reads like a simple option for voters, however, is bogged down in the confusing language that will appear on the ballot – with no mention of pay raises for Georgia lawmakers:
“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to restrict the ability of the General Assembly to increase the salary of state Senators and Representatives and establish a standard salary for such individuals equal to 60 percent of the median household income in Georgia?”
The language does not mention that this initiative is a pay raise or reference an approximate increase. It will not include any dollar amounts either.
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The bipartisan measure is sponsored by Republican Reps. Wes Cantrell, Randy Nix, and Heath Clark and Democrat Reps. Al Williams, Shelly Hutchinson, and Billy Mitchell. When they initially ran for office, both Cantrell and Clark identified as limited government conservatives, but both have repeatedly abandoned that ideology as their political careers have carried on.
In late 2017, a report by a committee suggested a pay raise for lawmakers, but no legislators opted not to pursue an increase in was filed to increase the rate of pay in 2018 – an election year for statewide and legislative seats. The committee, put together by state lawmakers, recommended a 72% increase in salaries for legislators, which is $29,908.
State representatives and state senators in Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Vermont all earn less than Georgia legislators.
The resolution now heads to the Senate for consideration. Lawmakers have until April 4 to gain final passage for legislative initiatives this year.