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Higher Wages Draw More Talent to Legislature, Say Legislators

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.


  1. larry kurtz 2015.02.05

    Republicans don't want talent they want dumb shits like Phil Jensen to drum up ridiculous crap to distract voters from the culture of corruption in Pierre. Anyone else notice Stan Adelstein's blasting of Rapid City?

  2. Tim 2015.02.05

    I read Stan this morning, reads like a witch hunt for the mayors office more than any concern for Rapid City.

    Cory, you know as well as anybody here, that wage thing doesn't apply to them, just everybody else.

  3. Disgusted Dakotan 2015.02.05

    Maybe if the legislature temporarily diverted the monies from the crony capitalist GOED towards better teacher salaries, or did away with no-bid contracts and used the cost savings towards education. If they put have as much effort in supporting the education of our children as they did lining their cronies pockets..

  4. Rorschach 2015.02.05

    Legislative pay should go up and be tied to state employee raises. It's just too bad that legislators don't want to solve the problem of teacher pay, or the problem of counties getting stuck with the cost of criminal justice without getting any tax money from alcohol.

  5. larry kurtz 2015.02.05

    Stace, how are you making a living these days?

  6. Craig 2015.02.05

    I'll support raising legislative pay, but since they are the ones voting on their own salaries they should have a delayed mechanism in place that doesn't impact the current pay until the next term... or perhaps even two terms.

    That would prevent them from essentially writing themselves a check, and if their true motivation is that we need to raise wages to attract a better crop of legislators then they shouldn't care that they won't benefit if they know the next class of legislators would be those who collect the bigger paychecks right?

    P.S. - I do love that Bolin cites farmers as a group of people who can just run off to Pierre without any regards to their income. I'm assuming he should be hearing from farmers in the Canton area who will remind him that most farmers run a 24/7/365 operation... and the cattle and/or hogs that most of them own can't feed themselves just because they want to play State Senator for a few weeks.

  7. Bill Dithmer 2015.02.05

    South Dakota could have the same efficiency they have right now in Pierre and save the tax payers some money to boot.

    Here's the deal, instead of all these legislators getting in each others road, lets help them out be reducing the numbers.

    First, lets go unicameral. There that was easy enough. Why wast money and time with two chambers always stepping on each others toes and all.

    Now lets cut the number of Representatives down to 6. One from Rapid, one from Sioux Falls, one from Brookings, one from Aberdeen, one from Mitchell, and one from Long Valley.

    To save even more why not let the governor appoint these people to serve at his leisure. Wow, even more money could be kept in the general fund if we only elected state officers every eight years.

    Well folks, that's basically the same representation you have now, your just spending more money for the same results you could be getting for less.

    I'm just trying to help here.

    The Blindman

  8. Danno 2015.02.05

    I've said it before....

    And I'll say it again. I know of only a bare handful of people who could afford to be in the house or senate here. All the good, qualified people that I would trust to represent me happen to have *jobs* that they can't take a three-month (if I recall correctly) leave of absence from.

    This leaves us with the likes of Phil Jensen, and others who find themselves in not having normal employment issues to deal with. Unlucky us. If it were a full-time job with something approaching decent pay, perhaps we'd have less of a circus running our state. Nuff said.

  9. Roger Elgersma 2015.02.05

    South Dakota is not last in legislature salaries. New Hampshire has approx. 400 seats in the house of Representatives and they get two hundred dollars per year each. A classmate of mine was in the legislature there and got accused of having that job for his own good. He had to explain that he had a construction company to run and getting paid two hundred dollars for a few months away from the job was not paying well at all. End of complaining.

  10. Roger Elgersma 2015.02.05

    But it is ok with me if they get a little more.

  11. Roger Elgersma 2015.02.05

    Legislature pay should go up with inflation just like the minimum wage.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.02.05

    Roger, Rep. Bolin did note New Hampshire's really low salary.

    I'll do you one better than minimum wage: how about we key legislator pay to teacher pay? Wherever South Dakota ranks for teacher pay, that's the ranking our legislators get? (I think I can whip up a spreadsheet for that.)

  13. Wayne Pauli 2015.02.05

    Heck yes, let's break off a piece for everybody. Where do I sign up for my little extra? When I travel within South Dakota I get $26.00 a day...I have to leave damn early and get home damn late in order to collect that huge amount. If I am gone overnight I get $55.00 for a hotel room, so now I am up to $81.00. They need $123.00 Why? that is about a 52% increase. Sign me up. I mean I am also doing the Taxpayers work.

  14. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.05

    That FB comment is perfect.

  15. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.05

    If higher wages drew legislators capable of this level of entertainment, I'd pay them myself! Jon Stewart reporting on the Florida/Texas Congressional dust up. It is so hilarious!!!

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