Today I’d like to post my thoughts on LR 373CA, the bill (as amended) which would allow Nebraskans to vote on whether or not to raise the salaries of Nebraska State Senators from $12,000 per year to $22,500 per year.
I believe that LR 373CA is a good bill as I think it is a good time to have this discussion. The last time the salary for Nebraska legislators was raised was over twenty years ago. The original bill would have raised the salary to $32,000 a year, which I think was high. We do, in addition to our salaries, receive travel reimbursement for when we drive back and forth from home to Lincoln. We also receive a per diem for each day we are in Session. For those reasons, the Executive Board amended the bill to a new salary of $22,500.
Most of us in favor of passing this bill know we are doing this for future legislators. I, as well as many other Senators here now, will not be affected very much by this raise as we will be done or nearly done with our time here by the time it takes effect. I also support it because I know that it is not ultimately our decision. All that we do by passing this bill is give it to you, the people of Nebraska, to vote on. Ultimately our salary is your decision.
I do not want to specifically advocate for a pay raise, but I hope that if this issue makes it to the ballot in November that each of you would seriously consider your vote. And for that reason I would like to address a few misconceptions I believe some people may have about what their Senators actually do, and how much time we spend at this job. Outside our regular Sessions, which last from January-June or January-April depending on the year, we also often are called back to Special Sessions. During these Sessions, we are mostly in Lincoln, but when we are back home we spend much of our time meeting with our constituents, reviewing bills, and doing other legislative work.
During the interims, we spend time working on bills for the next session, working on interim studies with our committees, and meeting with constituents and others. I generally spend about a week of each month during the summer and fall in Lincoln working on legislative business at the Capitol. And much of my time at home is also occupied with legislative business.
Being a state senator is easily a full-time job, which we gladly take on as a part-time job, because being a citizen legislator is very important, and ultimately the salary does not matter to many of us. But for some, younger people especially, the low salary is prohibitive to even running for office. Many people cannot afford to take the time off from their regular jobs to do this one without a higher salary. A diverse group of senators – in age, ethnicity, family status, and occupation – is very important to the functioning of this body.