OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma lawmakers are getting a pay cut after a nine-member board narrowly approved the reduction amid the state’s ongoing budget crisis.
The Legislative Compensation Board voted 4-3 on Thursday to reduce the base pay of Oklahoma legislators by 8.8 percent, effective in November 2018. The pay cut would reduce a legislator’s base salary from $38,400 to $35,021. The additional pay for House and Senate leadership positions also will be reduced.
“Oklahomans right now today are frustrated with Oklahoma’s Legislature,” said Chairman Wes Milbourn, the president and general manager of two Oklahoma City television stations who was appointed to the board by Gov. Mary Fallin.
State lawmakers are grappling with a projected $215 million budget hole. Most state agencies have seen deep cuts for the third straight year.
Milbourn was one of several members who suggested the panel consider reducing legislative pay and who voted in favor of the cut.
Another one of Fallin’s appointees who favored the reduction, Mike O’Neal of Edmond, said he considered that legislators earn significantly more than the average Oklahoman considering the Legislature is only in session from February to May.
“How does what we’re compensating them compare to the typical Oklahoman and Oklahoma family?” O’Neal asked.
Besides the $38,400 base salary, Oklahoma lawmakers receive travel and meal reimbursement and health and retirement benefits that bring their total average compensation to about $62,000, according to information compiled by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. The median household income for an Oklahoma family is about $49,000, OMES reported.
It’s not a novel idea. A voter-approved constitutional amendment in Massachusetts allows the base pay for rank-and-file legislators to be adjusted every two years to reflect changes in the median household income for state residents.
Some Oklahoma legislators said the reduction in pay won’t affect them personally, but could make it more difficult, especially for younger and working-class men and women to run for office.
“This is easier for me, because I don’t need my legislative salary and I don’t run for my legislative salary,” said Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City. “I just think we eventually need to have the conversation about who we want in the Legislature. Do we want those who are independently wealthy or retired and can afford it? Or do we want average, everyday citizens to have the ability to do it?”
Speaker of the House Charles McCall voiced similar concerns and said the panel’s vote should lead to a larger discussion about the salaries of state agency executives.
“After all the recent news about corruption, mismanagement and waste in our executive branch agencies, I feel confident that those discussions about lowering and capping pay for agency and cabinet appointments will be taking place when the Legislature convenes in February,” McCall, R-Atoka, said in a statement. “Many of these directors and appointments make four to five times as much as a state legislator, if not more.”
In addition, the leaders of the House and Senate receive an additional $17,932 each year, while the majority and minority floor leaders, appropriation chairs, House speaker pro tem and Senate assistant majority leader each make an additional $12,364 per year.
The board last approved a pay increase for Oklahoma legislators in 1997, boosting the annual salary from $32,000 to $38,400.
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