Oregon lawmakers may raise their own pay in effort to increase access to elected office
Advocates argue that increasing pay for legislators will go a long way to break down barriers for people who want to run for elected office and could increase the diversity of the state legislature.
Community groups, labor unions and the Portland Business Alliance are urging Oregon lawmakers to give themselves a raise.
Right now, the base pay for Oregon lawmakers is around $33,000 a year. But under a bill that had its first hearing on Feb. 3, that would go up to about $57,000 per year, which is the average salary in the state. Going forward, it would automatically keep pace with that average. Lawmakers with kids under the age of 13 would also get a $1000 monthly childcare stipend.
Proponents say all of this would diversify the pool of people who would even consider running for office in the first place. There is no organized opposition to the bill.
“I do think that there’s a common misconception that somehow our state representatives and senators are making quite a bit more for their service than they are,” Family Forward Oregon Political Director Courtney Helstein told OPB’s “Think Out Loud®.”
Sen. James Manning Jr., a Democrat from Eugene and a sponsor of the bill, said he knows of a House member who is currently working two part-time jobs to make ends meet. He did not name the lawmaker.
“If you have lawmakers, elected officials, that go into public service and then have to live on public subsidies, what does that look like for our state?” Manning asked.
Manning emphasized that, while the legislature is not in session year-round, the job of serving as a state lawmaker extends beyond the capitol. He said he’s had to replace his car twice since he took office.
“As a state senator, I travel across the state,” Manning said. “I do a lot of work that requires my personal resources and finances in order to support me.”
According to Helstein, the current salary for lawmakers deters people from diverse backgrounds from running for office.
“Historically, Oregon’s Legislature has been whiter, wealthier and older than Oregon’s general population,” she said.
Similar efforts to raise wages for Oregon lawmakers have failed in past legislative sessions. Helstein said she’s hopeful that this time, it will be different.
“We have a really broad group of stakeholders that really see the value in this and see the talent that Oregon is potentially leaving on the table because we’re not making it possible for every Oregonian to serve their state.”
Because the bill is in the Rules Committee, it is not subject to the same deadlines as other pieces of legislation and does not need to pass out of committee by Feb. 14 to remain viable.
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