Got news for the Oklahoma Board on Legislative Compensation: Its decision to give state legislators a 35.6% pay raise stinks like a dead possum on State Highway 10 in mid-August.
It's not that Cherokee County doesn't have a couple of excellent representatives at the statehouse; we do, and regular readers will know exactly who those are. But this state is also plagued by some do-nothings, extremists, and others who drive drunk or engage in illicit sexual activity. They need to be replaced, but instead, they're taking advantage of the fact that no one but politicians can assert for themselves pay increases amounting to more than a third of what they're already pulling in.
The percentage itself is offensive enough, but it's more breathtaking when considering legislators only have to be in session four months out of the year. Right now, the average lawmaker - that is, one not in a major leadership position - rakes in a base salary of $35,021, plus 63 days of expense money, a benefit allowance and a generous retirement contribution. The package amounts to nearly $55,000 a year, on the taxpayer back.
Contrast that with the median household income in Oklahoma, which often includes two wage-earners putting in a full year's work: $52,000 in 2018. And despite what's being trumpeted from the Beltway - and what millions have been brainwashed into believing - Oklahomans' wages aren't keeping up with their expenses. A comparison between today's receipts and those from five years ago reveals a truth that cannot be denied.
A few decades ago, Oklahoma legislators were the highest-paid in the country, factoring in their part-time status. That ranking dropped to eighth in recent years, but they'll no doubt be leading the pack again after this obscene raise. As CNHI statehouse reporter Janelle Stecklein reported this week, Colorado lawmakers make a base salary of $40,242. Arkansas pays its members $41,394. Missouri pays lawmakers $35,915. New Mexico doesn't pay a salary, and Texas pays $7,200. And many of those are full-time jobs.
Two years ago, a group on this compensation board slashed legislative pay by about 8.8% - a smart move, given the gridlock and ridiculous expenditures coming from the capitol. But Gov. Kevin Stitt, House Speaker Charles McCall, and Senate President Greg Treat, all Republicans, have managed to replace the cheeky panelists. How convenient for these gentlemen, who can now pad their wallets while the rest of us Okies stand helplessly by. It's also worth noting that this bunch has seen fit to pay McCall about $18,000 a year more, and Treat will get enough to make a down payment on a yacht or some other luxury item.
Not long ago, a number of Cherokee Nation citizens took umbrage with proposed pay hikes for their elected officials. The raises were voted down by the Tribal Council, and it's easy to see why. When regular citizens are struggling to make ends meet, they look askance at propositions that will open an enormous pay gap between them and those who are supposed to serve them. But at least the chief, deputy chief and tribal councilors work year-round, as opposed to Oklahoma's lawmakers. And the former group are actually getting something done for their people.
The raise is set to take effect in November 2020. An important question voters can ask candidates is whether they support this huge windfall, or would favor something a bit more modest, and in line with what constituents are paid at their respective jobs. Those who are in it for the money, and not for public service, should be shunned at the ballot box.