By Ralph Burke
Member, Alabama House of Representatives 1983-98, Democrat
Although the GOP leadership in Montgomery claim that reducing the 62% legislative pay increase was not included in the “Handshake With Alabama” as they campaigned in 2010, many (if not all) used it as their number one issue to take control of the Legislature. After the GOP failed in 2011 to adopt a resolution that would allow them to keep that campaign promise, they came up with a concocted Constitutional Amendment that basically shirked their promise and gave it to the voters. How courageous.
Legislative pay is confusing and you almost have to experience it to understand. I served in the Alabama House of Representatives 1983-98 from DeKalb County.
What does this amendment do? Not much of anything. Presently, Legislators in Alabama make $4,174 monthly or $50,088 annually plus $50 three days each week they are in session. It varies annually depending on several factors. This is from the Alabama Senate home page.
Amendment 8 sets legislative pay at the median Alabama household income annually AND (and this is the big AND) allows reimbursement of “expenses in the same amounts and manner as expenses are allowed under law for state employees generally”. If the amendment passes, Legislators will get mileage and “actual” expenses in the performance of their duties.
Let’s break it down. The median household income in Alabama is $42,081 (2006-10: US Census Bureau) – that becomes their base pay. Under the “actual expenses” provision they will get to add mileage and lodging every week during a Legislative session – presently they do not get mileage or lodging reimbursement.
Here is what the total annual compensation would look like in the district I once represented: $42,081, base pay; 366 round trip miles @ 55.5 cents per mile X 15 trips to Montgomery (if no special sessions) = $$3,046.95; lodging at $300.00 weekly X 15 weeks (again, if no special sessions) = $4,500. Add it all up = $49,627.95 a WHOPPING savings of $460.05 to the taxpayer.
There is so much more to discuss, but space does not permit, however one practical example. When I served, hotels in Montgomery competed for our business and gave special rates plus many of the members would share a room to save costs. When the hotels figure out Legislators get actual expenses the competition will cease and they will charge regular rates. Bunking with a roommate will stop – why not? The taxpayers are footing the bill now.
From a practical standpoint, this is a bad proposal. The GOP wants it to fail, then they can say, “We tried.” I don’t think they got the message. Vote NO, AND THEN TELL THEM TO FIX IT! And, do what you said you would. They blame their Democratic counterparts for passing the original raise on a voice vote. The real truth is, they could have already repealed it the same way. Where’s your supermajority now?