State lawmakers still set to receive 35% pay bump in the midst of COVID-19 crisis

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma lawmakers say their pay is out of their control as their salaries are expected to increase by 35 percent in the middle of a budget crisis.

“I will have to look into the raise and what exactly it is and how they funded it,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said.

Stitt gave little detail at Wednesday’s news conference regarding lawmakers’ 35 percent increase in salary this year.

“I am not going to give any comment whether legislature should get raises or judicial should get [a] raise, okay,” Governor Stitt said.

“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.”

The decision came from the Legislative Compensation Board in 2019. It’s made up of 11 non-elected officials appointed by Stitt, the House Speaker and the Senate Pro Tem.

“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. Many elected officials have other professions outside the state capitol.

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.”

All the while, most state agencies are seeing at least a 4 percent cut.

A small school district reached out to KFOR, saying, “They’re forced to cut $200,000 from its budget and forced to let go at least six employees.”

“We have some questions why they cut agencies and why some get more, and my team is still looking through it,” Stitt said.

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

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