In Oregon, where the base pay is about $33,000 a year, three female state representatives announced in March they are not seeking reelection because they can’t afford to support their families on a part-time salary for what’s really full-time work. They called the situation “unsustainable” in a joint resignation letter. Connecticut legislators haven’t seen an increase in their $28,000 base pay in 21 years.
While it varies by state as to how legislative salaries are adjusted, bills increasing legislator pay were proposed in several states this year, including Connecticut, Georgia, Oregon, and New Mexico, which is the nation’s only unsalaried legislature. So far the bills have faltered as some lawmakers fear rankling voters by approving their own pay raises.
It’s also not clear whether higher salaries ultimately lead to more diversified legislatures, something proponents of pay raises say is at risk. A 2016 study published in the American Political Science Review determined there was “surprisingly little empirical evidence” that raising politicians’ salaries would encourage more working-class people to run for political office. The study found that higher salaries “don’t seem to make political office more attractive to workers; they seem to make it more attractive to professionals who already earn high salaries.”
Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said he believes that low pay, coupled with the threats and picketing some lawmakers and their families have received over issues like COVID-19 rules, will discourage people of modest means from running. And that often means people of color.