The last time this stuff was thrown around was 15 years ago, and it didn’t end particularly well. In 2008, the first year of a state legislature which had been turned over in large measure due to term limits, a controversial bill that would have hiked the salaries of the Louisiana House and Senate members ultimately ended in failure amid a public outcry.
The failure of that bill came largely courtesy of then-governor Bobby Jindal, who was also in his first year. Jindal, to some extent, sandbagged the legislators by signaling he didn’t oppose a legislative pay raise – but when the folks began boiling over about the pay raise issue he turned around and ultimately opposed it.
Nobody has made a serious effort at a legislative pay raise since, but Joe Marino, an independent from the West Bank area in Jefferson Parish, is now bringing it back up for consideration – and in an election year, no less.
The people who represent you at the Louisiana State Capitol could be getting a hefty raise.
State Representative Joe Marino, an Independent from Gretna, filed a bill that would increase the salary of state senators and state representatives from $16,800 a year to $60,000.
“The salary for this job is not competitive to anything that you can do outside of being a legislator, and that’s my concern,” said Marino. “Again, it’s certainly not about Joe Marino.”
This would be the first pay increase for lawmakers in more than four decades.
“It’s been a financial burden every year I’ve been in the legislature. I don’t want to exclude large numbers of people from taking this job or trying to get this job because the salary is just cost prohibitive,” added Marino.
He is not seeking re-election, so this new change would not affect him. He also said lawmakers already get no retirement benefits with the job and the state has the budget for it. He believes the increase could get more ‘regular’ folks to run for office.
“We will end up with a legislature that will be primarily comprised of either retired people or independently wealthy people, and that eliminates a huge percentage of our citizens,” explained Marino.
“I personally think they should look at raising the minimum wage before they look at raising their own pay,” said Chrishona Gravney, a Zachary resident.
“I feel like, if they feel like they’re entitled to have a raise, then everybody else should have a raise as well,” added Dashaun Dotson, a Baton Rouge resident.
Since 2016, Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed an increase to the $7.25 minimum wage in Louisiana with no success.
“I would think that the governor might say, ‘Look, we’ll meet in the middle – maybe 30 [or] 40,000 a year,” said Jim Engster, a political analyst and president of The Louisiana Radio Network. “But right now, minimum wage in Louisiana pays $15,080 a year. That’s less than lawmakers make and that’s for a 40-hour week, a full-time job.”
While some believe Marino’s views are reasonable about finding a more diverse field of candidates to run, they’re still skeptical.
“I don’t think it would pan out that way,” said Taylor Guidry, a Baton Rouge resident. “That it would be the common folk getting up there, I still think it would be doctors and lawyers.”
“It is long overdue for lawmakers to get a raise. The question is how much and the question is whether it’s palatable in an election year because those that vote for it will be held accountable,” added Engster.
We can start by recognizing the chances of this passing right before everybody in the Legislature is up for re-election are slim and none. It isn’t going to happen this year.
That having been said, if it comes back up in 2024, yeah – we wouldn’t oppose this as an investment in a stronger legislature.
Because $16,800, plus all the mileage and per diems and other things these guys can leverage to maybe get up to $35,000 or $40,000 per year, really isn’t enough compensation to get the kind of honest expertise you need in a state legislature. There are some exceptional people in the House and Senate, and there are some utter buffoons who got elected largely because nobody else of any quality wants the job.
Bumping that salary up to 60K would make it so that folks who work more regular, 9-to-5 type jobs could swing working in the legislature. You’d have fewer doctors and lawyers and business owners who have suspiciously high levels of focus on matters involving their own industries, and more working-class folks.
That would be a good thing.
But given the level of distrust – earned distrust, to be sure – between regular people and the political class, a bill like this is definitely a heavy lift.
What we’d be for as a substitute for a legislative pay raise would be a greater budget afforded to each legislator for staff. Louisiana’s legislators don’t make any money and they don’t get much of a budget to pay a legislative aide, and what that generally means is the aides are often little more than interns who don’t know much about state law or the legislative process and therefore don’t help the legislators a whole lot.
And that accounts for some not-great results with bad bills moving and good bills not.
We don’t think it’s a bad idea to invest in a better legislature – professional staff, and professionalized legislators, at least to an extent. But climbing this hill this year? Joe Marino’s got some high hopes, and some heavy confidence that he won’t draw an opponent this fall who’ll hammer him for trying to suck more money out of the taxpayer.