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Monday, May 8th, 2023

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


 In case you missed the news bulletin, a number of legislators in Baton Rouge say they just have to have a big pay raise to survive.  The initial proposal was for legislators to see a pay bump from the current $16,800 to $60,000.  But it could be a big election issue.  “Some people, if they vote for this, it could cost them an election,” said Rep Barry Ivey.”

Let me say right up front that I think current legislators ought to have a raise. But we need to put their total compensation into perspective.  Besides the direct income of $16,800, legislators also receive $168 a day every time they come to Baton Rouge to do business. There is also a mileage allowance to and from Baton Rouge along with both retirement and health care insurance benefits.  Then a full-time staff assistant paid for in their district office along with expenses for that office including a nationwide telephone watts line. So the total income is not particularly high, but the fact remains that the pay received is significantly above $16,800 a year.

Let me make a comparison as to how much things have changed. I was elected to the Louisiana state senate and took office in 1970.  I was a sole country lawyer practicing in Ferriday and struggled to make a living. My senate district had been reapportioned in the previous legislative session, and the new district covered six parishes across northeast Louisiana.  It took me three hours to drive from one end of my district to the other.  Several times a week, I drove to various meetings with police jurors, school boards or various civic organizations.  And I received no millage or any other allowance for this travel.

In Metropolitan areas, there were then, and now, a number of legislators who represent just one parish. They could attend a district meeting and still be home for the 10:00 news, where I often did not return home until after midnight.

Here was my total compensation package that I received for representing these six parishes. Six hundred dollars monthly. That was it. No other compensation except a small per diem when the legislature was in session. There was no per diem  for coming to the state capitol, no milage reimbursement, no office allowance, no legislative aide, no telephone reimbursement, nothing else.  Every phone call in my district, outside of my hometown of Ferriday, was a long-distance call.  I was paid no reimbursement for any of these calls. So I received total monthly compensation of six hundred dollars, and my average monthly telephone bill was nine hundred dollars.

Of course there were no cell phones back then.  I paid the local motel in Ferriday to answer my telephone when I was at the capital on traveling throughout my six parishes.  If my phone did not answer after six rings, the night operator of the motel would answer and say I was not available. I would often stop by a local sheriff’s office on the long drive back to Ferriday from a legislative meeting. The sheriff’s office was always open around the clock, so it was good place to get a hot cup of coffee to get me home as well as to call and check on my messages.

When the legislature was in session, there were no telephones in the Senate at our desk. There was one telephone booth that all 39 senators had to use.  I was receiving 15 to 20 calls a day on average, and often stood in line for a good while waiting for my turn to use the telephone in the enclosed booth.

That was then. I do not begrudge legislators today wanting to receive adequate compensation for carrying on the state’s business, both at the state capital as well as in their district.  They need to be reimbursed more than the current amount.  But they ought to count their blessings that they are not serving back in the days when I was in the legislature.  It was a great deal worse back then.  No one knows that better than me.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com. You can also listen to his regular podcast at www.datelinelouisiana.com.













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