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In my two years in the Legislature, I have experienced how important it is to bring different perspectives to the table. Only through understanding the diverse array of viewpoints in our state can we, as legislators, attempt to solve problems that face all Nebraskans. Though we have made strides in recent years, our legislature still lacks much-needed diversity. One thing that makes it difficult for everyday people to serve in our citizen legislature is a constitutional barrier that sets senators’ salaries at $12,000 per year. This is why I introduced LR12CA, a resolution that would allow voters to amend our state constitution and raise the salaries of legislators to 50% of the median household income of Nebraska residents.
A 2017 survey done by the National Conference of State Legislatures found the average pay for state legislators to be $35,592 excluding per-diem and expense payments. At $12,000 per year, Nebraska falls far behind many states with similar costs-of-living, such as Arkansas, Michigan, and Iowa. When considering inflation, average legislator pay has decreased substantially over the past 30 years, especially in states like Nebraska which haven’t increased pay since 1989.
Higher legislative pay has several benefits. First, candidate recruitment becomes less difficult. Lawmakers and advocacy groups on both sides of the political aisle in Nebraska who once opposed increasing legislator pay now support it because they are struggling to recruit candidates. Second, it allows a broader range of citizens to consider running for office. Higher pay enables Nebraskans of all income-levels and in all districts to consider elected office.
Under LR12CA, legislator salaries would be adjusted every two years, at the beginning of each biennium. I felt it was important to set salaries this way so our salaries are responsive to Nebraska workers’ salaries. If their median income goes down, there is no reason our pay should stay higher. LR12CA’s method to determine legislator pay every two years has been tested in several states including Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. It’s an effective way to increase pay with respect to inflation and cost-of-living.
I am grateful that there is a bipartisan coalition of Senators who have co-sponsored this measure with me. These Senators represent a diverse coalition of political ideologies who together understand the necessity to make elected office more accessible for everyday Nebraskans. It is my hope that this measure will be adopted and put to the people of Nebraska for a vote.