By Taxpayers Association of Oregon
The issue of better lawmaker pay is not new to us. The Taxpayers Association of Oregon has for nearly 15 years advocated that Oregon elected officials should get better pay because it is indeed a full-time job.
We believe lawmakers should have their wages tied to the average wages of Oregonians (1). If Oregon average wages go down, lawmaker wages go down. If wages rise, lawmaker wages rise alongside them. This eliminates the tenuous situation of politicians voting on their own salary.
For a long time, Oregon lawmaker wages have been in the $20,000-$30,000+ annual range. This blocks ordinary people from running for office. The low-pay system now disproportionately favors lawyers, the upper class, government employees and people with too much time on their hands. We need a more citizen legislature.
In a perfect world, decent lawmakers pay also includes term limits. Decent pay attracts quality people and term limits provides them the open door. (2)
Additionally, whatever low pay lawmakers get it disproportionately hurts rural lawmakers more, as they have to travel 5 hours or more when they commute back to their district during Session.
The worst case against better pay is lawmakers themselves. After all, Oregon has been rated as the 5th biggest, fattest and most expensive government as measured by government spending per citizen (per-capita). That’s right, some 44 other states are able to balance their budget better than what Oregon has delivered (those other state lawmakers have more earned their pay). Furthermore, Oregon politicians have been raising taxes non-stop at the state and local level. They open themselves to criticism when they raise taxes and vote themselves raises.
The final point we must address is the fact that being a lawmaker is an overwhelming and life-consuming task. Constituents, lobbyists, media and other politicians are calling them at all hours, deep into the night, all weekend long — everything is an emergency to people involved in politics. There are no boundaries. It is extremely unhealthy. This is why we see many elected officials get burned out early or suffer huge damage to their families. These lawmakers could use decent wages to better counter the insanity of the job.
We look at this issue as a matter of principle. People should look beyond the people in power now, but rather consider how this can help future generations of lawmakers.
(1) Definition: By average Oregonian wages we imply a formula mixing average and median wages and other methods to reach a more accurate number.
(2) Term limits: Don’t forget that the politicians led the campaign to repeal term limits in Oregon. They said at the time, that the longer a politician serves the more experienced and better they become. Since Oregon ranks low on key state performances (education, transportation, pension liability, public safety, traffic, drug abuse, homeless, affordable housing, jobless benefits, forest management, criminal justice) it appears that lawmakers used their experience to enshrine the problems and grow the bureaucracy instead of reform and making things better.