State lawmakers would see a 72 percent increase to their salaries under the recommendations of a committee created by the Georgia legislature earlier this year to review compensation for elected officials.
In a report, the committee also recommended increasing by 19 percent the varying salaries of constitutional officers who are elected statewide, for example, the secretary of state, attorney general, state school superintendent and agricultural commissioner
Legislators voted earlier this year to increase the next governor’s salary to $175,000 from the current level of $139,229.
In Georgia, state legislators make policy decisions about issues like education, insurance and health care. They pass a more than $20 billion dollar budget. Still, members of the House and Senate are considered part time, making $17,342 a year, plus a per diem for lodging and meals during the 40-day legislative session, as well as reimbursements for mileage.
“Georgia lagged behind compared to other states when it came to elected officials pay,” said Ryan Teague of the committee’s findings.
Teague chaired the committee appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal, House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
“A lot of these folks they spend many, many years working in the legislature and representing the constituents that they serve,” said Teague. “They put a lot more time in over the course of a year than just the 40 days.”
The new salary for Georgia legislators would be $29,908, per the committee’s recommendations. For the speaker of the house, and the lieutenant governor, who leads the Senate, salary would be $135,000.
Any pay raises of that scale for state lawmakers and constitutional officers must be approved by the legislature and the governor. By law, they wouldn’t go into effect until after the 2018 election.
The last time elected officials got a significant raise was nearly 20 years ago, in 1999. The report points out Georgia’s population was estimated to be 10.3 million in 2016, nearly a 25 percent increase since 2000.
A few big states have full-time legislatures with higher pay. California pays lawmakers $100,113 a year, and Pennsylvania pays $85,339, but 30 states pay $30,000 a year or less, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
“We didn’t really come at this from the mindset that we’re going to ever pay them fully for the time that they’re putting in,” said Teague. “It’s still at some level is public service. They’re not going to get paid necessarily what they would get paid in other areas of the economy.”
In Georgia, one former lawmaker, LeDawn Jones, told WABE earlier this year she had to give up her seat because she couldn’t afford the job.
“I absolutely believe that we need to increase the wage for legislators to keep up with the times,” Jones said.
At the same time, Jones worried too big a pay raise could spawn more career politicians.
She said she likes the idea of a “citizen legislature,” where people leave their jobs behind to meet at the state capitol for a few months of the year, if they can afford it and get the time off.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include comments from Teague.