By Jason Williams
Taxpayer Association of Oregon
The front page Sunday Oregonian ran a story about the proliferation of Oregon lawmakers who are using campaign funds to pay their own salary. I recognize the problem and I think we need to pay Oregon legislators an actual decent wage. Our elected officials should be paid the same as most Oregonians and be set to the median wage of Oregon workers. Right now Oregon lawmakers make around $1,800 a month — half of the state’s average wage. You can’t have a citizen’s legislature of ordinary people without making it possible for them to serve. Already they have to take nearly seven months out of the year to serve. How many people can afford to do that? As a result, too many Legislative bodies are filled with the same occupations – lawyers, government employees and the higher income earners.
Low-paying lawmaker wages also penalizes rural lawmakers the most. They have to travel extreme distances just to keep in contact with their constituents. It can take Senator Ted Ferrioli nearly 8 hours to travel from one end of his district to another. It takes 5 hours for him to travel from home to the State Capitol.
By tying it to median wages, it means that they are paid the same as what most Oregonians are paid. If the economy goes down, and wages drop, then the politicians’ wages drop with everybody else. Lawmaker wages would only rise when everyone else wages rise. This also prevents lawmakers from having to vote on their own increases.
Our Legislature needs fresh new blood, new ideas and more everyday people. We need to remove the barriers that penalize rural lawmakers. Let’s set lawmaker wages to Oregonians’ wages and open the political door to new people to serve.
P.S. The best way to bring in new people is term limits. But no one expects that to happen anytime soon.