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Monday, June 6, 2016



State legislators earning their pay in 2016

By the time you read this, Louisiana legislators will have concluded their regular session and are in the throes of a special session, the second one called by Democratic John Bel Edwards in an effort to fill massive budget holes left by the two terms of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. The budget cavern started out at $2 billion, but Edwards and the Legislature have whittled it down to somewhere between $400 and $600 million, which the special session is designed to plug.

Edwards is proving to be a tough taskmaster. Immediately after taking over the state’s top job, he called a special session to deal with the budget deficit. It began on Feb. 14 and ran through March 9. The regular session convened March 14, giving legislators only about a week off to return home and tend to business and family. No such luck this time. The regular session ended at 6 p.m. June 6, and Edwards called them back into a special session to begin at 6:30 p.m. on that day, giving them only a 30-minute break.

So, as you can imagine, there has been mumbling and grumbling among some legislators over the governor keeping their nose to the grindstone. But they shouldn’t blame Edwards. He is trying to clean up the mess Jindal and some of these same legislators left on the governor’s desk for the next governor to deal with. Is it fun? No. Is it painful? Yes. Edwards and the Legislature have had to endure some of the toughest decisions not seen in state government in decades by raising taxes and making budget cuts. And there are no pills they can take to ease the pain they’re in during this special session.

Be that as it may, as Deputy Barney Fife always said on the great “The Andy Griffith Show” when he was dubiously given credit, “It goes with the job.” To be sure, some legislators did not realize what they were signing up for when they decided to become a state legislator. The Senate has 11 new members out of 39; however, some of those moved up from being House members. The House has 29 new members out of 105 with only two having previously served in the Legislature.

One has to feel a bit sympathetic – just a teeny bit – for some of the legislators. Not every one of them is rich or retired and can afford to be away from their day jobs for half a year. And, of course, it has been a trying time for their family life. But that’s surely the case for legislators in 2016. They will have basically been stuck in Baton Rouge since the organizational session began Jan. 11. The ongoing special session concludes June 23. When you add in committee meetings that are attended when the Legislature is not in session and other required meetings, it’s safe to safe that legislators have been on the job for more than six months when in normal years, if there is such a thing, they spend about 90 days away from home.

So, that begs the question: How much do we taxpayers pay these people for their public service, which we most often abhor but seldom appreciate as they grapple with one of the worst budget crisis in the state’s history? I’m sure there will be disagreement over whether it’s too little or too much. That’s for you, the reader, to decide. Here goes.

The base pay for a state legislator in 2016 is $16,800. House and Senate members make the same salary. Of course, the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate are paid more as are other legislative leaders. They get a $6,000 expense allowance to spend as they see fit. And they get per diem of $159 a day for every day the Legislature is in session. Let’s total it up:

Base salary – $16,800. Expense allowance – $6,000. Regular session per diem – $13,575. Per diem for two special sessions – $7,950. Travel to Baton Rouge for committee meetings when Legislature is not in session – $3,146 (average). Total salary for 2016 – $47,471.

In addition, each legislator receives $1,500 for their office and official expenditures, which must be vouchered, so that is not clear money. The state does supply some equipment, such as computers and other office machinery, when the legislator initially takes office. Their legislative assistants are classified as state employees and are paid according to state pay scales based upon years of service. On average, that comes to about $3,500 a month, but some make more than others as specified above.

A final note: I have lost some good friends recently: Virginia Robicheaux, Craig Durrett, Chuck Fellers and Marty Carlson, journalists all. And my good friends Mike Sullivan, Jane Ryder and Hugh Williams. I guess that’s to be expected when you reach a certain age, but it does not make the loss any less bearable. The passing of Marty Carlson, an award-winning journalist who wrote for The Forum, The Times, and the “Fax-Net Update,” was indeed shocking. She was only 63 years old. My thoughts and prayers are with them, their families and their friends.

Lou Gehrig Burnett, an award-winning journalist, has been involved with politics for 44 years and was a congressional aide in Washington, D.C., for 27 years. He also served as executive assistant to former Shreveport Mayor “Bo” Williams. Burnett is the publisher of the weekly “FaxNet Update” and can be reached at 861-0552 or louburnett@comcast.net.


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