Local News

Some State Lawmakers Pushing For Pay Raise

Posted May 30, 2006 10:40 a.m. EDT

— It is supposed to be a part-time job, but state lawmakers argue their marathon sessions and long hours amount to a full-time commitment.

It has been 11 years since state lawmakers have seen any pay increase, and some say they are due for one. Demands often outpace compensation. Still, asking for a pay raise in an election year can be political suicide.

"(It) makes it hard for me to afford to be here," said Sen. Hugh Webster, R-Caswell.

Webster has filed Senate Bill 2020 to boost lawmakers' pay by 40 percent, which is in line with other state worker raises since 1995. Otherwise, Webster argues, "regular" people cannot afford to serve as state lawmakers.

"We are becoming, or have become, a legislature of the rich and retired," Webster said.

Senate Mnority Leader Phil Berger agrees, but questions the size of Webster's proposal,

"When you say 40 percent increase, that's the sort of thing, from a political standpoint that hits somebody ... and that's what makes it a difficult issue," Berger said.

North Carolina falls in the lower half of salary extremes with legislators making a little less than $14,000 a year, plus expenses. California's full-time lawmakers are paid about $110,000 a year, plus expenses. At the other end, New Hampshire state leaders get just $100 a year, plus mileage.

"It's a pitiful salary really," said Bob Hall, with the government watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, who has led the ethics charge to take questionable perks away from lawmakers.

At the same time, he thinks lawmakers deserve higher pay.

"If the public doesn't pay for them, we're going to wind up being the loser because if we don't own these folks, if they're not serving us, they're going to be serving somebody else," Hall said.

Including expenses, the average state lawmaker gets close to $40,000 a year. Webster's bill would increase that to about $56,000.

So, is he confident his fellow lawmakers will take the political risk?

"No, they're scared to death," Webster said.

Other ideas under consideration include tying lawmaker pay to future state worker raises and limiting the length of the legislative session.