Georgia Senate rejects big pay raise for the General Assembly, state officials

Sen. Valencia Seay is the sponsor of Senate Bill 252, which would have given big raises to legislators for the first time in decades. “I have not had a raise in 20 years,” Seay said. The measure failed on a vote of 33-20. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Sen. Valencia Seay is the sponsor of Senate Bill 252, which would have given big raises to legislators for the first time in decades. “I have not had a raise in 20 years,” Seay said. The measure failed on a vote of 33-20. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

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.

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.

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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.

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Attorney general

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Current salary: $123,270

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Secretary of state

Current salary: $123,637

Proposed salary: $146,691

Labor commissioner

Current salary: $122,786

Proposed salary: $146,115

Agriculture commissioner

Current salary: $121,557

Proposed salary: $144,653

Insurance commissioner

Current salary: $120,394

Proposed salary: $143,269

Public service commissioner

Current salary: $118,781

Proposed salary: $138,974

Lieutenant governor

Current salary: $91,611

Proposed salary: $135,000

House speaker

Current salary: $99,074

Proposed salary: $135,000

State legislator

Current salary: $17,342

Proposed salary: $29,908

Source: House Bill 675

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