Oklahoma board considers reducing legislator pay, benefits

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A committee created to decide whether to give Oklahoma lawmakers a pay raise decided instead Tuesday to consider reducing the salary and benefits for the state’s 149 legislators.

The Legislative Compensation Board voted to keep the $38,400 annual salary for now, but the nine-member panel agreed to meet again in four months to discuss the issue more.

Chairman Wes Milbourn and several members suggested the board consider reducing lawmaker salary and benefits given the state’s budget crisis and a perception from the public that lawmakers are doing a poor job.

“This is something that the whole state of Oklahoma is very frustrated with, they’re very frustrated with the performance of the legislators,” said Milbourn, the president and general manager of two Oklahoma City television stations who was appointed to the board by Gov. Mary Fallin. “In many businesses everywhere, you find that people who don’t perform certainly don’t get raises, and many of them lose their jobs or get decreases in their salaries, and so I think that’s something we at least need to consider in today’s climate.”

State Rep. Bobby Cleveland said he was surprised to hear the panel was considering reducing legislator salaries and questioned whether a pay cut might ultimately keep some young people from running for office.

“As far as I’m concerned, it wouldn’t bother me,” said Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, a retired businessman, “but I think it would have an impact on the quality of people who decide to run.”

Fallin called a special session of the Legislature last month to find ways to plug a $215 million hole in the budget after a $1.50-per-pack cigarette fee approved by Republican-controlled Legislature was ruled unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Since then, Fallin and Republican House leaders have publicly bickered over the budget, and lawmakers have yet to reach an agreement on how to shore up the budget.

Besides the $38,400 base salary, Oklahoma lawmakers receive travel and meal reimbursement and health and retirement benefits that bring their total compensation to about $62,000, according to information compiled by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

The board asked OMES to calculate the state savings if legislator salaries were cut in the range of 5 percent to 20 percent.

Oklahoma lawmakers, who typically meet only four months out of the year, rank 17th highest in legislator salary and per diem at about $48,000 per year, according to OMES. In addition, the leaders of the House and Senate receive an additional $17,932 each year, while the majority and minority floor leaders, appropriation chairs, House speaker pro tem and Senate assistant majority leader each make an additional $12,364 per year.

The board last approved a pay increase for Oklahoma legislators in 1997, boosting the annual salary from $32,000 to $38,400.


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