The House State Affairs Committee voted unanimously yesterday to pass three bills that could put more money in legislators' pockets. Are raises for teachers next?

House Bill 1145 would give legislators the per diem reimbursement (currently $123) for attending the Governor's budget address in December and the inauguration in January. (I have a separate post on that bill coming up!) House Bill 1149 doesn't raise legislator pay, but it adds the words "at least" before the "six thousand dollars" that SDCL 2-4-2 sets as the legislative salary, opening the door for raises. House Bill 1150 would add legislators to the list of elected officials who automatically get the same pay raise as other state employees.

Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton), primary sponsor of HB 1149 and HB 1150, said in his testimony on HB 1149 that legislators haven't had a raise since 1998 and have one of the lowest legislative salaries in the nation. Rep. Bolin said that low pay limits the pool of people who can work in the Legislature to five small categories:

  1. farmers,
  2. young people with few family obligations,
  3. the independently wealthy,
  4. retirees, and
  5. folks with "a particular belief system" (might he mean ideologues?) who would serve no matter what the pay.

You realize, don't you, Rep. Bolin, that you basically wrote the speech for Senator Bernie Hunhoff to support his SJR 2 to raise South Dakota teacher pay?

No one in committee noted the analogy between low legislator pay and low teacher pay. Nor did anyone speak against the three legislative pay bills, but, following the swift and undisputed votes, a friend of a Facebook friend (who can have credit if that FFF wants it!) published this list of rebuttal points based on the excuses legislators give for not raising teacher pay:

  • They only work a few months out of the year and get summers off.
  • South Dakota has a low cost of living, so they don't need to be paid more.
  • South Dakota also has a high quality of life, so that should more than make up for the pay.
  • We don't have an income tax, so they need to take that into account.
  • If they don't like the salary, they should go legislate somewhere else.
  • We should only pay new legislators more money; the more tenured ones are already here.
  • Perhaps we need to link their pay to performance; have the citizens in the legislator's district take standardized tests, and if they do well, the legislator will be paid more [Facebook comment, 2015.02.04].

I support raising legislator pay. I would argue that Rep. Bolin doesn't go far enough. HB 1149 should double legislator pay to make up for the lost ground of the last seventeen raiseless years, just as Governor Daugaard says we should increase our gasoline tax, which has stayed flat and lost purchasing power since 1999.

Besides, I want HB 1149 and HB 1150 to pass so we can put Republicans on the record rejecting all of the arguments my FFF makes above and embracing the basic, common-sense economic arguments that support raising teacher pay. Having the lowest pay in the nation significantly limits our labor pool. Higher wages will draw more talent. House State Affairs knows that economic logic applies to their field; it shouldn't be hard now to convince them that economic logic applies to teaching as well.