SD legislators pass bill to hike pay last raised in 1998

March 7, 2018

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A bill that would give South Dakota’s state lawmakers their first salary hike in two decades is headed to Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s desk.

The House voted 52-15 Wednesday to send a bill to the Republican governor that would give the state’s 105 legislators a major raise and tie their salaries to the state’s median household income. A legislative pay increase was last signed into law in 1998.

Tony Venhuizen, the governor’s chief of staff, said in an email that Daugaard supports a legislative pay bump and would sign the bill as long as the necessary funds are included in the state budget. Officials predict the bill would cost taxpayers about $655,000 in the upcoming state budget year.

Supporters have said the measure aims to fairly compensate future lawmakers in order to encourage a wider range of qualified candidates to run for office. Legislators are currently paid $6,000 per session plus the per diem allowance.

“For those of us that have served, we all know that we don’t do this job for the money. We all know we’re making a sacrifice to be here,” Republican Rep. Chris Karr, a supporter, recently told a Senate panel. “But the question is: how big of a financial sacrifice are we expected to make?”

Former Republican Rep. Clarence Kooistra, who co-sponsored the 1998 pay raise bill, said the Legislature should put state dollars toward priorities such as a veterans cemetery, teacher pay and state employees before legislators.

“I would give them a passing grade,” said Kooistra, a retired educator who has since become a Democrat. “As a schoolteacher, I’d give them a ‘C.’”

Lawmakers currently decide their own pay, but the new measure would set their salaries at one-fifth of the South Dakota median household income, starting next year.

The Legislative Research Council estimates lawmakers’ pay for 2019 would increase to approximately $11,800. It would amount to a roughly 97 percent raise.

At least two states — Alabama and Massachusetts — link lawmakers’ salaries to household earnings. Most states leave salaries up to the Legislature, while some use outside compensation commissions to directly set pay or give recommendations.

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