Legislator pay varies greatly across nation

By John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford

According to the latest salary breakdown compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the annual base salary of a Bayou State lawmaker is $16,800. But that doesn’t represent total compensation. Lawmakers also get a $6,000 per year unvouchered expense allowance and a $149 per diem, which is paid out for every day of official work.
The numbers can add up quickly.

For instance, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, made more than $53,000 last year in total compensation, based on his latest personal financial disclosure form on file with the Ethics Administration. Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, pulled in roughly $52,800.

But it’s usually the lawmaker in charge of the budget process who makes the most, due to their longer hours and position—even more so if they can claim mileage by driving into Baton Rouge. That’s why Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, had a total compensation of more than $64,000 last year, which is more comparable to the base legislative salaries in Illinois, $67,836; Massachusetts, $60,032; and Ohio, $60,583.

Still, the $16,800 base in Louisiana seems to be a better deal than the $7,200 annual salary paid to Texas lawmakers, along with their $150 per diem. Although the Lone Star State has a much larger population, its legislators only meet every second year.

Arkansas lawmakers are much closer, making $15,869 annually with a per diem of $147. The figures are even lower in Mississippi: $10,000 per year and a $123 per diem.

While Louisiana lawmakers certainly hold their own regionally, they should just be glad they don’t represent the good people of New Mexico, which offer their lawmakers no salary at all, though they do get a $154 per diem.

Meanwhile in New Hampshire, a two-year term nets legislative members only $200—and nothing more.

The highest annual salaries for lawmakers are where you might expect them: California, $90,526; Michigan, $71,685; New York, $79,500; and Pennsylvania, $83,801.

The most interesting twist, however, can be found in Illinois, where lawmakers are paid a salary of $67,836, but are mandatorily required to forfeit one day of compensation per month. That came courtesy of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who stuck lawmakers with the strange provision when they dragged their feet on unfunded pension liability.  West Bank House district well represented in prisonA curse must hang over House District 87 on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish, where a second lawmaker to hold that seat could be headed to prison. The latest is former Rep. Girod Jackson, D-Harvey, who resigned last month after being charged with federal tax fraud and failure to pay his taxes.

Representing the same House seat was Derrick Shepherd before going to the Senate in 2005 and then on to federal prison in 2008 for money laundering in a fraudulent security bond scheme.

Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, has scheduled a primary election for Nov. 16 and a runoff, if needed, Dec. 14. Qualifying begins Oct. 2 and runs for two days.

So far, candidates are not exactly lining up yet. Former Rep. Terrell Harris, who held the seat between Shepherd and Jackson, has opted not to run again, according to political sources. One potential candidate mentioned is Ebony Woodruff of Harvey, an assistant parish attorney.


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