SALEM — Oregon lawmakers are considering raising their annual pay by nearly $20,000, a move the sponsors say will attract more diverse candidates to the statehouse.
“We’re a diverse state, we need a diverse legislature,” Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, one of the legislators leading the effort, told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Because of the low pay, we are automatically screening out people who really should be represented here.”
The move comes only a few weeks after a 28 percent legislative pay raise went into effect. Lawmakers were not behind that raise, and the increase was tied to collective bargaining agreements that affected nearly 40,000 state employees.
Legislators now make $31,200, plus an extra $149 a day when the Legislature is in session.
Burdick, a Democrat from Portland, said that the current pay isn’t a living wage and makes it more likely that retirees or independently wealthy candidates pursue office. She noted that legislators make far less than some city and county elected officials.
A recent series in The Oregonian/OregonLive highlighted ways that some lawmakers use money from campaign donors to supplement their pay, sometimes in particularly outrageous ways.
Burdick is proposing a measure that would raise wages by 63 percent, to more than $50,000 per year. That would make Oregon’s Legislature one of the highest paid in the country, compared to other statehouses with lawmakers working for a similar amount of time.
But it’s unclear if the state has the money to fund a salary bump. The most recent pay raise will cost Oregon $1.6 million every two years, and the increase floated in the proposal will be much more.
State budget leaders have already called for cuts across nearly all state programs and are trying to dig deep to come up with more money for schools and health care.
Still, Burdick is undeterred. And although she concedes that the plan will likely be politically unpopular, she maintains that it’s necessary to create a well-rounded statehouse that better reflects state demographics.
“This is not a get-rich-quick scheme down here,” she said. “This is public service. But if it gets to the point where you can’t feed your family, that’s where the problem is.”
— The Associated Press