Reduction in pay: State board votes to cut Oklahoma legislators’ salary amid budget crisis

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House, Senate meet on Saturday but adjourn minutes later

OKLAHOMA CITY – As Oklahoma lawmakers continue to battle it out after eight weeks in a special session, it seems that their pay is about to be cut.

The Legislative Compensation Board voted to reduce lawmakers’ pay by 8.8 percent during a meeting on Thursday.

“They’re not coming together and taking care of business. They need to be accountable. And we need to make sure that we send the correct message to their performance, to them about their performance or lack of,” Wes Milbourn, chairman of the Legislative Compensation Board and KFOR’s President and General Manager, said in October.

“I think it’s only fair,” said Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, when reached by phone about the board’s consideration of reducing legislator pay. “Legislators aren’t doing their job, they don’t deserve to get paid for their job.”

Dollens, however, did voice concern about how pay cuts to legislators who aren’t independently wealthy could affect lawmakers.

Currently, the 149 legislators receive a $38,400 annual salary. In addition to the salary, lawmakers receive travel and meal reimbursement, and health and retirement benefits. In all, their total compensation is about $62,000.

Their annual salary would decrease to $35,021.

House Speaker Charles McCall released the following statement after the board’s decision:

“I don’t do this job for the money, so personally I don’t mind the vote at all. 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.”

“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. 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 states 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.”

In a news release, McCall points out that former Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Terry Cline was receiving more than $195,000 before he resigned last month at the Department of Health. Deputy Health Commissioner Julie Cox-Kain, who also resigned, was paid more than $146,000 annually. State lawmakers are paid $38,500 annually for their service.

“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. 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,” McCall said.

Governor Fallin also released a statement saying:

“I was surprised by the action of the Board on Legislative Compensation. 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.”

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