State lawmakers would receive a big raise if voters in November agree to it under a resolution that passed the Georgia House on Tuesday.
A bipartisan measure sponsored by state Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, House Resolution 842, would put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall to take the issue of legislator pay out of the General Assembly’s hands. The measure passed 136-33.
Currently lawmakers are paid $17,342 a year, although that would rise to $22,342 in coming months under a spending plan that has cleared both the state House and Senate.
If Cantrell’s resolution passes the General Assembly — it now heads to the Senate — and is OK’d by voters in November, legislators would be paid 60% of the median household income of Georgians, starting in 2025.
Cantrell said the proposal would raise legislative pay to about $36,000 a year.
Under the proposed constitutional amendment, as the median income rises, so would legislative pay.
“As Georgians do better, the General Assembly would do better,” Cantrell told colleagues Tuesday.
Cantrell said he decided on the 60% figure because a study showed lawmakers do the work equivalent to two-thirds of a full-time job. Some, such as the Legislature’s budget chairmen, work pretty much full time.
Lawmakers last received a cost-of-living raise in 2008.
Alabama lawmakers’ salaries are tied to that state’s median income. Lawmakers there are paid $51,734 a year.
Cantrell, a minister who is not running for reelection this year, said the General Assembly’s low salary “limits how many Georgians can serve.”
Lawmakers often say many Georgians think state legislators are paid like members of Congress, who receive $174,000 a year.
Bills to raise legislative pay have failed to gain any traction for several years. After those failures, legislative leaders tried a different tactic.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported that a committee of chamber leaders last year quietly raised the allowance lawmakers receive for days they are at the Capitol or in committee meetings by 42.7%, from $173 to $247 per day.
The per diem hadn’t been increased since 2006. If a lawmaker only collected per diem for the 40 days of a regular legislative session — most receive it for more days — the change would result in about a $3,000-a-year increase.
But that was done without a publicized vote of the full General Assembly. Raising the base pay of lawmakers — which can’t be done by a small group of House and Senate leaders — has been nearly impossible politically.
The legislative base pay raise in Gov. Brian Kemp’s budget proposal wasn’t mentioned when the Georgia House on Feb. 10 passed the midyear budget, and it wasn’t mentioned by the Senate either when it later approved the spending plan.
WHAT LAWMAKERS EARN
Annual base pay: $17,342. Going to $22,342 soon.
Daily allowance: $247 a day. The Legislative Services Committee raised the allowance from $173 last year.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution