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South Dakota lawmakers getting first pay raise in 21 years

January 3, 2019

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota legislators will get their first pay raise in about two decades as they head to the state Capitol next week for the 2019 session.

State lawmakers will be paid $11,378.80 in 2019, a roughly 90 percent jump from the $6,000 per session they’ve received since 1998. Legislators also get a per diem allowance that’s increased during that time.

House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, a Republican, said the raise will allow more people to get involved in state politics. The wage hike is part of a law approved last year that set legislator salaries at one-fifth of the South Dakota median household income.

Supporters said then that the measure aimed to fairly compensate future lawmakers in order to encourage a wider range of qualified candidates to run for office. They contended the change would tie lawmakers’ salaries to the economic prospects of the people they represent.

“If our economy goes up and overall people are making more dollars, then that pay increases,” Republican Rep. Chris Karr, a supporter, said this week. “We’re trying to solve problems for South Dakota, come up with solutions, so messing around with compensation and then arguing over what it should be ... is probably not the best use of our time.”

The move spares lawmakers from taking politically awkward votes on their own salaries in the future; the wage hike and link to the median household income comes after many unsuccessful attempts since 1998 to pass a legislative pay increase.

Senate President Pro Tempore Brock Greenfield, a Republican, said it was the first time he’s voted for a pay increase since joining the Legislature in 2001. Greenfield, 43, said he’s found jobs over the years that accommodate his legislative schedule since graduating from college in 1999.

Now, helping out with his family’s bar-restaurant and small grocery store and substitute teaching and bus driving, Greenfield said the raise is welcome.

“I’m still not going to be cutting a fat hog by any means over the course of a year, but it will certainly bolster my end of the year ... tax returns,” Greenfield said. “If you told anybody that you’re going to get $5,000 more next year than you did last year, I mean, that’s wonderful.”

The 2019 session starts Jan. 8 and will run into late March.

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