Monday, December 3, 2007

The Good News On Legislative Pay

The Good News On Legislative Pay

One of my most enjoyable jobs as State Representative has been providing those I represent with a weekly update on events occurring in State Government. I have also enjoyed the opportunity to respond to feedback from these updates.

Some of the most pronounced and decisive feedback received has been response to the inappropriately high level of compensation received by Oklahoma legislators. In a recent column, I wrote about a controversial decision by the legislative compensation board to give Oklahoma's part time legislators the same medical benefits as Oklahoma state employees. This results in an approximate increase of twelve thousand dollars per year for Oklahoma legislators (although it is important to note that legislators without family dependants will be unable to leverage that amount of money). This is in addition to the third highest pay in the nation for a part time legislature, a large per diem expense reimbursement for some legislators, and a retirement system that is paying some retired elected officials more than they made while holding office.

The feedback I have received on this issue has come from people representing a wide range of professions and walks of life who are outraged at paying a high level of taxes inappropriately spent in this manner.

While I agree and sympathize 100% with this outrage, I believe it is important to communicate some good news and acknowledge that there are efforts to bring change to the system.

One of these efforts was launched this year by Edmond State Representatives Ken Miller and Marion Cooksey. Miller and Cooksey proposed a bill that would enable legislators to opt out of the state insurance program, presumably to be covered by their own employment plans. This would save taxpayers thousands of dollars. The bill passed the House but was inexplicably tied up in the Senate.

An effort by Representative Trebor Worthen to deny retirement benefits to legislators who commit a felony was successfully voted into law. This common sense legislation was necessitated by the revelation that former Senator Gene Stipe was still eligible for thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds.

Earlier this year I submitted legislation that would lower the pay of Oklahoma legislators to the average salary of Oklahomans and keep it indexed to that average. I believe this would provide the important free market concept of incentive to Oklahoma legislators to support pro-growth policies, such as elimination of the state income tax. However, because this proposal requires a large upfront cut in legislative salaries, it faces an uphill battle.

As always, I am committed to supporting common sense reforms regarding how your taxpayer dollars are spent.

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