For most part-time jobs, $1,000 a month sounds like a fair wage. But most part-time jobs aren’t in the Nebraska Legislature.
Without question, the 49 Nebraskans elected to represent their pockets of the state in the citizen Legislature are of the utmost importance. The position of state senator comes with long, unpredictable hours and numerous commitments outside the 150 days of scheduled sessions over two years.
Yet, it’s not paid as such. A proposed constitutional amendment before the Legislature aims to address and put the question on the ballot in November. We hope it advances – and that Nebraskans seize the opportunity to ensure the legislative branch more accurately represents the state’s citizenry.
Increasing senators’ pay would help ensure a more representative cross-section of the state in its Legislature. An inadequate salary has skewed the body toward those who are retired or are of significant enough means to weather the small paychecks and large demands of time and resources.
Senators spoke bluntly to the Associated Press about the financial strain of their public service. One no longer has the means to retire when her term ends. Another is drawing from his retirement savings despite still working.
The topic is one of the few that unites senators of all political ideologies and geographic regions, as evidenced by the diversity of the measure’s eight co-sponsors.
Nebraska voters last approved a pay hike for lawmakers 30 years ago, bumping up their salaries from $4,800 to $12,000 – or from $400 to $1,000 per month. In that time, though, there’s been no adjustment for inflation, which would place a $12,000 salary in 1988 dollars at a more reasonable $25,000 today.
It’s hard to truly compare apples to apples, since every state handles wages, per diems and reimbursements differently. By any yardstick, however, Nebraska ranks near the bottom in compensation for its lawmakers, while voters have long been reluctant to increase senators’ base pay.
The proposal Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas has before the Legislature offers a smart way to fix this.
No longer would the state constitution require a ballot measure, a process that’s prevented the pay from being commensurate with the work, for an increase. Instead, the proposed amendment would tie legislators’ salaries to be half of the state’s median household income, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau – around $28,000 presently.
Many of the body’s most conservative members, several of whom voted against previous pay hikes as private citizens, have changed their tune upon being elected to office. We pay heed to their experiences.
The struggles faced by senators know no partisan ideology. Serving in Nebraska’s citizen Legislature should be a privilege, not a financial drain – and we hope voters have the opportunity to right this decades-old injustice faced by their representatives.
— Journal Star, Feb. 20, 2018