OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma lawmaker pay will remain the 15th highest in the nation, an eight-member legislative compensation board decided Tuesday.
Saying lawmakers are being paid appropriately for the work they do, the all-male, citizen-led Legislative Compensation Board voted to keep legislators’ annual pay at $47,500. Factor in an $11,055 total for per diem allowance, a $7,919 benefits allowance, and a $3,325 state retirement contribution, and legislators’ annual compensation is $69,799 for an estimated 67 days of session.
In addition, the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate take home an additional $17,932 per year for their efforts. Other leaders pocket an additional $12,364.
The oversight board, which meets biennially and is constitutionally required to set legislative pay, has flip-flopped over appropriate legislative compensation in recent years.
When it last met in 2019, the board decided to hike legislator pay by 35.6% to the current level.
But just two years prior, a different slate of board members slashed lawmaker pay by 8.8%. Saying they were overpaid for the work they did, the board reduced compensation to $38,400, which members said at the time put pay more in line with other regional legislatures.
For comparison, Arkansas lawmakers take home $42,428 a year in salary; Texas pays $7,200; Missouri, $35,915; Colorado, $40,242; Kansas, $5,586; Louisiana, $16,800; and New Mexico pays no annual salary, according to a state analysis.
Alan Jett, a state Senate appointee to the board, said most Oklahoma lawmakers — particularly those in leadership roles — work much longer than just the session. He said serving as an Oklahoma legislator is a full-time job for most.
While Jett supported leaving most compensation flat, he said “a reasonable increase” in leadership compensation was warranted. That suggestion was rejected.
Board chair Lawrence Neisent said the board last awarded lawmakers a substantial raise in 2019 — then COVID-19 hit.
“That decision created a bit of a firestorm for some of our legislators to contend with,” Neisent said.
He said when the board considers increasing compensation, it needs to be cognizant of public sentiment surrounding pay and that the issue could become a subject of discussion between legislators and constituents..
The average state employee makes $50,051 per year. The Oklahoma median household income was $54,449 in 2019, according to a state analysis.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.