Tahlequah Daily Press

Editorials

October 23, 2013

Legislative pay hike proposal an insult

TAHLEQUAH — Last week, the Legislative Compensation Board, by a 7-1 vote, nixed an audacious proposal to raise the base pay of state lawmakers from $38,400 to $44,000 a year.

The lone holdout for the windfall was former State Sen. Charles Ford, R-Tulsa, who claimed a “competitive salary” was imperative if Oklahoma wants to coax “independent thinking” folks to serve.

Let’s get this straight: If an individual isn’t paid at least twice the amount of the average Okie, for about a third as much work, he’s not going to be a good “public servant”? Given the lack of concrete accomplishments from this recently gerrymandered state body, it’s tempting to accept that explanation. On the other hand, we do have some pearls among the swine, like our own State Rep. Mike Brown, who has done an exceptional job for his constituents.

The truth is, Oklahoma legislators continue to be among the highest-compensated state lawmakers in the country. The Daily Press conducted an analysis several years ago, and despite some across-the-board changes, the shocking outcome of this study remains largely the same. An Associated Press article last week indicated our lawmakers have dropped to 16th in the nation, though they are the best-paid among all neighboring states

 The article did not say whether it calculated rank based on the part-time status of Oklahoma lawmakers, since they only “work” about four months out of the year, whereas many other Legislatures are in session year-round.

The $38,400 salary for four months of work would seem generous enough to the average person in a state with a median household income of $44,312. But it’s even more attractive when you add in the $147 daily per diem for legislators who live more than 50 miles from the Capitol ($153 next year), plus the 56-cents-per-mile travel reimbursement and a monthly health care allowance of $640.  That’s not counting the optional retirement benefit, or the extra compensation for certain leadership positions, which ranges from $12,364 to $17,932 per year. A couple of legislators were heard to grouse that they hadn’t had raises since 1998.

We suggest these “people of privilege” join the club. Not only have many private- and public-sector employees not had raises for years, they’ve also been subjected to furloughs and benefits cuts. And if Oklahoma lawmakers could be seen as overpaid in 2013, the amount they were receiving in 1998 borders on the obscene.

It should also be pointed out that the starting salary for a public school teacher in this state is $31,000. That’s ironic, since teachers are often criticized by detractors for being paid for “only nine months of work.” Why aren’t those same naysayers lambasting legislators, with their minimum $62,000 annual package, for “only four months of work”?

Wes Milbourn, chairman of the compensation board and an appointee of Gov. Mary Fallin, had this to say: “With today’s government and today’s environment, I think we would not be looked on as wise members of this committee if we were to do increases, especially with the federal government shutdown, and cuts here and cuts there.”

That may have been an understatement. The large number of state legislators have not even proved themselves worthy of hanging onto their jobs for any length of time, much less worthy of raises of nearly 8 percent. Oklahomans should be insulted anyone even suggested it.

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Editorials
  • NSU needs to be more candid when its plans go awry

    Many area residents were disappointed to learn this week that the NSU Fitness Center, and its all-important indoor lap pool, won’t open next month, as originally announced.
    This latest delay is no surprise.

    July 28, 2014

  • Higher premiums a just reward for drunken drivers

    Over the past several years, Oklahoma has slipped in many of the polls that count. This week, we learned Tulsa is No. 4 on a list of cities with high rates of fatal DUI accidents. Is anyone really surprised?

    July 25, 2014

  • Maybe it’s time to think about having another BalloonFest

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    July 23, 2014

  • If you see a drunken driver, take the time to call in a report

    If you see something, say something. You’ve heard the warning, and seen it imprinted on placards at airports. In the wake of 9/11, it became a national mantra, mainly aimed at spotting potential terrorist activities. But it’s good advice anytime, and for any reason, even at the local level.

    July 14, 2014

  • City officials should stop squabbling and try to work together

    It’s bad enough that the Chamber of Commerce scandal has given Tahlequah a black eye. But if the bickering among city officials doesn’t stop, the community will have a complete set of shiners for its public face.

    July 11, 2014

  • Only full disclosure will restore trust in the chamber

    Despite pressure from some quarters, neither the Press nor anyone else who values full disclosure will be clamming up until all the facts are known, and those who are responsible meet with justice.

    July 10, 2014

  • Only full disclosure will restore trust in the chamber

    A few board members for the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce are saying they’ve heard nothing but positive things lately – about the chamber itself, and presumably, about themselves.

    July 9, 2014

  • Employer-sponsored insurance may now be a ‘hostage’ situation

    When the fallout settles from the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, many Americans might decide they’re better off with health insurance that doesn’t come from their boss.

    July 7, 2014

  • With confidence in Congress at 7 percent, time for a new slate

    Note to Congress: We don’t like you. Not at all.
    A Gallup poll released Monday, June 30 confirmed what most of us already know: the American public is disgusted with the House and Senate. The survey recorded the lowest level of confidence since Gallup began asking the question in 1991: a whopping 7 percent. That’s not a typographical error; it’s a single digit.

    July 2, 2014

  • New chamber head needs to be free from scandal’s taint

    Every time another layer is peeled off the unfolding saga of the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce embezzlement case, those going through the records hope they might see a light at the end of the tunnel. So far, that hasn’t happened.

    June 30, 2014

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