Lawmakers getting 3.61% raise as state’s median household income rises

Lawmakers getting 3.61% raise as state’s median household income rises

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Alabama’s 140 state lawmakers will receive a 3.61% raise next year, bringing their annual pay to $49,861, according to the Alabama Personnel Department.

Lawmakers’ pay has increased by $7,012 since 2015 when a constitutional amendment went into effect tying their salaries each year to Alabama’s median household income. 

The voter-approved amendment was initially a pay cut for many lawmakers, putting their salaries at $42,849 in 2015. Since then, they’ve had four raises and one slight pay decrease. 

In 2007, the then-Democratic-controlled Legislature passed a 61% pay raise, overriding the veto of then-Gov. Bob Riley, an Republican. Backlash over that raise, which put legislative salaries at $49,500 but also allowed for automatic annual increases in pay, helped the GOP take over the Legislature in 2010.

Now, thanks to a rise in median household income, lawmakers will be earning more starting Jan. 1 than they were slated to under the original 2007 pay raise.

Republicans who pushed the constitutional amendment in 2012 said it would save the state money and take politics out of their pay. Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, sponsored the legislation that led to the constitutional amendment. He said it’s working exactly as intended and as advertised to voters.

“If the state prospers, we do better; if it doesn’t, we don’t,” Ball told Alabama Daily News. 

Ball said he thinks lawmakers’ salaries are reasonable.

“I know what I do for this job,” he said. “If you do this job right, it requires a lot of attention.” 

The amendment allows most lawmakers to be reimbursed more for travel to and from Montgomery.

In-state travel for the Legislature, including employees, went from $40,152 in fiscal 2014 to just more than $1 million in fiscal 2019, according to spending records available at open.alabama.gov.

Alabama’s lawmakers are considered a “hybrid” legislature – not full-time, but more than part-time. They do most of their legislating during a regular session once a year, meeting usually three days a week for 15 weeks. Occasionally, they’ll meet in a shorter, governor-called special session. There was one special session in 2016, two in 2015, and one this year, tucked into the regular session. 

Lawmakers don’t earn more during sessions, but they are compensated for travel costs. When not in Montgomery, they may be working on legislation or working in their districts.

Ball said if lawmakers think their pay is too high, they can decline the paycheck.

“If someone wants to work for free, they can give the money back,” Ball said. “… I’m not one of them.”