Punitive lawmaker pay cut draws criticism

A decision to lower the salaries of state legislators surprised Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders.

The Board on Legislative Compensation, in a move seen by many as punishment for lawmakers for not raising taxes, cut legislative pay by 8.8 percent, from $38,400 a year to $35,021.

“I was surprised by the action of the Board on Legislative Compensation,” said Fallin. “The board is a constitutionally formed independent panel granted the power to change the pay of lawmakers. Their vote reflects the level of the public’s frustration. There are many hardworking legislators who spend more than 40 hours a week outside of regular session representing their constituents. In many cases, they do so at the expense of lost compensation from their normal jobs and time away from their families.”

House Speaker Charles McCall said that the vote by the Legislative Compensation Board to reduce legislators’ pay opens up the door to discuss executive branch pay amid all the state agency corruption and mismanagement that has taken place during the last seven years.

“I don’t do this job for the money, so personally I don’t mind the vote at all,” said Speaker McCall, R-Atoka. “I think the same could be said for House leadership, who often times are working nights and weekends trying to achieve the best possible outcomes for our citizens. This job is about public service as it should be. This is not a ‘part-time job,’ as so many like to say. The four-month legislative session is only a portion of the work that lawmakers do. Cutting compensation ensures that in the future many lower-income but capable citizens won’t be able to run for the Legislature. Only those with financial means will have the opportunity to represent citizens at the Capitol.”

But, said McCall, the action taken by the Board does create an opportunity to have a broader discussion about how taxpayer dollars are being spent on compensation – not only for lawmakers but for all government employees, as well.

“After all the recent news about corruption, mismanagement and waste in our executive branch agencies, I feel confident that those discussions about lowering and capping pay for agency and cabinet appointments will be taking place when the Legislature convenes in February,” McCall said. “Many of these directors and appointments make four to five times as much as a state legislator, if not more. The same agency heads that said they were going to cut services to the state’s most vulnerable due to a lack of funds are paying themselves and their subordinates hefty six-figure salaries. That money could be used to help those same people they threaten to cut.”

Former Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Terry Cline was receiving more than $195,000 in salary before he resigned after more than $31 million in financial mismanagement was discovered last month at the Department of Health. Deputy Health Commissioner Julie Cox-Kain, who also resigned, was paid more than $146,000 annually.

“As a business owner, I certainly understand the need to hire and retain quality people; however, the real concern should be to ensure that the state is getting the best value for their money,” McCall said. “In the House of Representatives, the citizens get a chance every two years to decide if their representative is earning his or her income. With the Executive branch, there is no accountability for poor performance. So, yes, I welcome not only the discussion on legislative pay, but on all taxpayer-funded compensation.”