Legislative pay the latest distortion of the Right

Legislative pay the latest distortion of the Right

- in Fitzsimon File

It may surprise you to learn that state lawmakers in North Carolina  are raking in the dough as part of their legislative service, making "above average pay" according to the folks at the Locke Foundation and the Civitas Institute, well above the salaries of both state employees and workers in the private sector.

It would surprise the lawmakers too because it is simply not true. It is the latest ridiculous misrepresentation by the think tanks on the Right in their ongoing assault on government and everything associated with it.

Rank and file members of the General Assembly earn an annual salary of $13,951 for a job that keeps them in Raleigh for roughly six months for long sessions held in odd numbered years and three months for the short session that convenes in May of even-numbered years.

That is their pay. They also receive a daily expense allowance when they are in session to pay for their hotels and meals and they receive a mileage reimbursement for one roundtrip to Raleigh per week.  They also are given $666 a month for office expenses, postage, fax machine, furnishings etc.

That's it. The Civitasers added all the payments up for 2009 and published them for each legislator in a chart titled, "How much did your legislator make in 2009?"

The salary, expense allowance and per diem was almost identical for every rank and file lawmaker. Lawmakers from the far West received more in mileage reimbursements than lawmakers closer to Raleigh. 

Other than legislative leaders of both parties, who make a higher salary, legislators all received roughly $40,000 to $50,000 a year, with most of the difference based on the distance lawmakers have to drive every week.

The Locke Foundation story on the Civitas chart reported that the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average government worker earns $44,158 a year and since many legislators received more than that, it's an outrage.

But lawmakers don't make $45,000 a year. That's how much they receive.  The comparison to other state employees or private sector workers is absurd.

Think about it. Say you are offered a job for $50,000 a year. Not too bad.

Then you realize that you are expected to be out of town several nights a week for six months of the year and you have to take your mileage, gas, lodging and meals out of your salary. Oh, and you have to pay your own office expenses too.  That's not a $50,000 a year job and the folks at Locke and Civitas know it.

And the absolute numbers are not the only distortion. The Locke report says that "among the 25 legislators collecting the highest compensation in 2009, the vast majority were Democrats; only six were Republicans."

The six highest paid lawmakers are all Democrats because the Democrats control the House and Senate and the leaders of each chamber make higher salaries. If Republicans take over one chamber or the other, they will earn the higher salaries.

The money received by the next 19 is based primarily on the difference in their travel expenses based on mileage.  And the difference between the 25th legislator on the list, Democratic House member Cullie Tarleton and the 26th legislator, Republican David Guice, is $112.71 for the year.

Only a few thousand dollars separate Tarleton from folks at the bottom of the list, most of whom live close to Raleigh.  But that doesn't matter when the goal is to bash government and especially Democrats who serve in it.

The truth is legislative pay is too low not too high. Just under $14,000 a year plus expenses is hardly a salary that makes the job available to most people.  And it's not a citizen legislature either.  Not many people can have another job and tell their boss they have to be gone six months next year to stay in Raleigh.

It is past time for an honest debate about legislative pay and how to make it possible for a broad cross section of people to serve. The most obvious solution is making the job full time and paying a decent wage.

But an honest discussion is not on the agenda of the folks on right-wing avenue. They continue to contaminate the debate with their distortions of reality and the headlines they generate from them.

One thing about their misleading presentation of legislative pay does make sense. It was published on a website called Carolina Transparency, which could not be more appropriate since it's pretty easy to see right through them.