Give the General Assembly a Pay Raise

Ok.  That got your attention.  And, yes, I'm serious.

And if you want policies and budgets representative of you, regardless of your political party affiliation, you would be serious about it, too.  

I've been a lobbyist at the General Assembly for nearly 15 years now, and it's common for me to hear from my clients and their constituents that we should slash legislator pay as they lament the fact that the General Assembly is under-represented by younger families, single parents, public school workers, and those who have to work 40 hours per week to make a living.

I give a standard reply in such conversations that usually disappoints:  Cutting legislator pay does nothing to attract the desired representative and senator to our state legislative branch.  Then I drop this idea on them:  The General Assembly should double, triple, even quadruple legislator pay and it needs to happen now.     

Giving legislators in the North Carolina House and Senate a significant and permanent pay raise would be a transformative policy/budget shift that would shift more power and leverage to current legislators of both parties representing everyday citizens while attracting new middle class voices to the chambers.

Currently, rank-and-file members in the House and Senate earn an annual salary of, wait for it now, $13,900.  Legislators are also given a modest $104 per day while the General Assembly is in session to cover their food and lodging costs in Raleigh, not exactly a cheap market to rest your head and get a bite to eat three times a day.

And although it's supposedly a part-time citizen legislature, and many think deserving of part-time pay, serving in the General Assembly is nothing short of full time gig and has been so for as long as I've been a lobbyist in the General Assembly.  

When not in Raleigh, legislators meet with small businesses trying to persuade them not to relocate to other states (I'm looking at you, Georgia), confer with local governments and constituents to learn the needs of a community, and are on call constantly as they serve as a navigator for many citizens in the maze of state government.  Most legislators also use their time away from Raleigh to craft and negotiate bills for current and future sessions with stakeholder groups.   

While a $13,900 salary may seemingly attract selfless community leaders and average citizens, the reality is that paltry legislative salary actually deters many everyday people from being able to serve in the General Assembly while leaving the policy and budget reins in the hands of those who can afford to pay bills on $1200 a month, mainly the wealthy and the retired.  

And for those middle class legislators who do serve, and there are a struggling few in both parties, they often find themselves scraping to make ends meet, keep their jobs back home, and compete for leadership positions in the General Assembly with those who are of endless means and time on their hands.   

Now let me be very clear on this.  I have no problem with the financially successful serving in our General Assembly.  These individuals often bring a business, taxes and job-creation perspective that is needed in our legislative branch.  We also need retirees to serve and benefit from their wisdom and experiences.  But we also need more legislators from both parties who are on the trickle-down side of business, taxes and job-creation plans.  

This isn't about Republicans and Democrats.  Raising legislator pay would benefit both caucuses.  It would attract younger conservatives to serve, who may have young children in the home, and could champion the power of early childhood development in the Republican caucus or the need to invest in higher bus driver pay.  It would attract progressive small business owners who could be a powerful voice within the Democratic caucus on job creation and lower taxes.   

Think about the North Carolinians from both parties you want serving, or retaining, in the General Assembly.   Then think about that pay raise again.  It makes sense.