The Georgia Senate voted down a 70% raise for lawmakers and a big hike for statewide elected officials contained in legislation that would have supplied the first big salary increase for the General Assembly in a few decades.
The raises in Senate Bill 252, sponsored by Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, came out of a 2017 compensation study that said lawmakers and many statewide elected officials were underpaid.
“I have not had a raise in 20 years,” Seay said.
However, critics said being a legislator is a part-time job and doesn’t deserve a full-time salary.
Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, said: “We do fantastic work in this building. We do essential work, I believe, in this building.
“But we are part-time legislators. I don’t believe any of us, no matter how hard we work at this job, wake up and go to work Monday through Friday, 9-5, 12 months of the year, to do this job.”
The measure was defeated 33-20.
Essentially the same bill was awaiting action Monday in the House. House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, endorsed the pay raises last week.
“I don’t know of anyone who wants a legislative chamber to be made up exclusively of people that are independently wealthy or they’re retired,” Ralston told reporters.
As of Monday evening no vote had been taken in the House.
Under the bills, the basic legislative salary would increase from $17,342 to $29,908 starting in 2023. The House speaker’s salary would go from $99,000 to $135,000, and the salary of the lieutenant governor — who serves as the Senate president — would go from about $92,000 to $135,000.
Most other statewide elected officials would see increases in the 40% range. The one exception was the governor, whose salary would remain $175,000. The General Assembly voted to raise the governor’s salary before Brian Kemp took office in 2019.
Besides the raises, salaries and daily expense allowances in the future would have been indexed for inflation.
State lawmakers have long complained about the base salary of $17,342, and they have often used it as a reason why they quit, saying they can’t afford to serve while raising a family. Many wind up lobbying their former colleagues, making 10 or 20 times what they earned making laws.
But passing pay raises is always tricky political business. Lawmakers face reelection contests every two years, and opponents are typically quick to bring up a legislator’s vote on pay raises.
Lawmakers have also filed legislation to raise their pensions in recent years, but they’ve not been able to get a bill through both chambers.
Current salary: $139,169
Proposed salary: $165,611
Current salary: $123,270
Proposed salary: $147,128
Secretary of state
Current salary: $123,637
Proposed salary: $146,691
Current salary: $122,786
Proposed salary: $146,115
Current salary: $121,557
Proposed salary: $144,653
Current salary: $120,394
Proposed salary: $143,269
Public service commissioner
Current salary: $118,781
Proposed salary: $138,974
Current salary: $91,611
Proposed salary: $135,000
Current salary: $99,074
Proposed salary: $135,000
Current salary: $17,342
Proposed salary: $29,908
Source: House Bill 675
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution