State Legislator Resignations: Is Low Pay to Blame?
Is low pay, political divisiveness, or something else entirely, causing large turnover of state legislators?
No industry has been immune to the "Great Resignation." As we discussed a couple weeks ago, the public sector is dealing with its own inability to hire workers in a tight labor market. But beyond regular staff, state elected officials are also resigning or not seeking reelection in large numbers.
At least 30 state House Speakers, Senate presidents and majority leaders have either resigned or announced their retirement at the conclusion of their current terms, according to an NCSL tracker.
In Wisconsin, 28 members of the Assembly and Senate have opted to not seek reelection or announced they will run for another office; and
In Connecticut, at least 31 legislators are expected to leave the General Assembly.
The Great Resignation is having an impact on state houses across the country. In Oklahoma, a number of seats never even have a challenger. And in New Jersey, more than 30% of lawmakers who left office between 2014 and 2018 did so to take a job in the private sector. The trend is likely to continue, as the pay for state legislators remains relatively low. In New Jersey, legislators make $49,000 compare to the median household income in the state of about $85,000 .
While turnover in elected positions is good for democracy and gaining more diverse representation, comparatively low pay for some legislatures is preventing candidates from running and limiting the pool to those able to work for such low salaries. In most states, part-time legislative work is a full-time job with part-time pay, and you cannot raise a family on that.
This week we look at what's affecting statehouse legislature resignations and turnover.
The Pay is Too Low
Georgia lawmakers get raises and higher pensions hoping for more diversity The Atlanta Journal Constitution
Politics is More Partisan and Divisive
Evers sets a veto record as toxic partisanship ramps up Washington Examiner
But There is Hope
Let's Talk About A Unicameral Legislature For Hawaii Honolulu Civil Beat
CHART OF THE WEEK
Not all state legislatures are created equal. They apportion legislative seats differently, meet at different times, adopt different types of budgets, and employ varying amounts of staff. For example, California's 80 representatives represent about 500,000 constituents each, while New Hampshire, with 400 representatives (yes 400!), each represents about 3,000 constituents according to Ballotpedia.
The functioning of the legislature also affects compensation. A part-time legislature, for example, may only meet a few days a week or a few months out of the year, and pay its members an annual salary. A full-time legislature, on the other hand, often meets year-round and pays its members a salary plus per diem expenses to cover housing and food while they're in session. In Wyoming, the Legislature meets in a General Session only in odd numbered years.
According to the NCSL (based on the map):
Green legislatures require the most time of legislators, usually 80 percent or more of a full-time job.
Legislatures in the Gray category are hybrids. Legislatures in these states typically say that they spend more than two-thirds of a full time job being legislators.
In the Gold states, on average lawmakers spend the equivalent of half of a full-time job doing legislative work. The compensation they receive for this work is quite low and requires them to have other sources of income in order to make a living.
Innumeracy and State Legislative Salaries Public Opinion Quarterly
The Issue: What do citizens know about state legislative salaries and how does correct information change opinions of legislators and what citizens believe to be their proper levels of compensation?
Alternate Read: Study's Author Washington Post Article
People vastly overestimate of what members of the General Assembly earn per year. Correcting that misinformation can help garner support for legislative salary increases, but coming to a better understanding of state legislative compensation does not seem to improve attitudes about the General Assembly more generally. This study also suggests that informing the public has the potential to shift attitudes about other policies that are closely related to the misinformation in question.
Any opinions expressed herein are those of the author and the author alone.