Organization calling on lawmakers to put pay raise on hold

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As Oklahoma lawmakers are set to receive their first pay increase in more than 20 years, an outside organization is calling on them to put the raises on hold.

This year, Oklahoma lawmakers are poised to receive a 35 percent salary increase.

It’s something that representatives say is out of their control.

“The raise they set for us was set before the pandemic began,” Rep. Forrest Bennett said. “It’s not my decision and certainly not a fun thing to talk about.”

Instead, the decision came from the Legislative Compensation Board in 2019. It’s made up of 11 non-elected officials appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, House Speaker Charles McCall and the Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat.

“I think there is a desire from a lot of Oklahomans out there to see more working class people take jobs like this,” Bennett said.

Their salaries are jumping from $35,021 to $47,500.

Rep. John Echlos wanted to clear up the confusion. His communications director released the following statement to KFOR:

“Constitutionally, legislators have zero authority to set their own pay. The Constitution places legislative pay entirely with an independent board of citizens, so it is false to say legislators gave themselves raises in the budget. The entire legislative branch of government is receiving budget cuts this year like most agencies, so no new money is being appropriated for the salary adjustments the independent board approved last year. This constitutionally-required cost, which was out of legislators’ control, will be paid out of existing funds.”

The raise comes as many state agencies prepare for budget cuts, which is causing some organizations to call for a change.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is asking lawmakers to approve a joint resolution that would place a constitutional amendment before voters prior to when the raises are set to go into effect.

“Many legislators say they don’t want the pay raise at a time when so many of their constituents are suffering, but feel their hands are tied,” said Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. “But if constitutional requirements are binding lawmakers, they can give voters the chance to change the Oklahoma Constitution.”

This is the first pay increase for lawmakers since 1997. It is set to kick in November 2020.

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