Our next-door neighbor, Louisiana, has been in a twit because its brand new, reforming Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, came into office this year on a vow to “prohibit legislators from giving themselves pay raises.” Guess what? Shortly after the election, the legislators voted themselves a huge pay boost, more than doubling their salary, from $16,800 to $37,500, with considerably more money available once expenses are added in. Gov. Jindal said he wouldn’t veto the pay raise because it was the legislators’ business. This set off a storm of anger, mostly in French we might assume, among Pelican State talk show hosts, editorial writers and conservative Republicans who rightly felt betrayed. We Texans have already spotted an interesting, even astounding, item in this story. Yep, you found it. The lawmakers are from Louisiana, a notoriously poor and corrupt state that finishes 49th if not 50th in most standard of living categories. But Louisiana legislators, even before their pay raise, made more than their wealthy neighbors to the west – us. Our Legislators earn – OK, “earn” is not quite right, make that, “receive” - $7,200 a year, the same today as when Gerald Ford was president in 1975. If they work a 40-hour week each session, it breaks down to $12.86 an hour. Only lawmakers from nine other states make less. But nothing in politics is as it seems. In addition to their annual salary, all Texas legislators and the lieutenant governor receive a per diem personal allowance of $128 for every day the legislature is in session. That includes both regular and special sessions. I wonder if the state lawmakers from Austin get a per diem? So add to that measly $7,200 and we have the per diem, which totals $17,920 for the regular 140-day session. The odd years in which our lawmakers meet gives them $25,120 – the $7,200 salary and that $17,920 per diem allowance. And remember they get paid their salary in the off years when they don’t do squat. The lieutenant governor, who is considered more powerful than the governor, receives the same pay as the legislators. The current holder of that job, David Dewhurst, is a wealthy man and doesn’t need the pay. Neither did Bill Hobby. But Bob Bullock had to find outside work.  We pay our governor $115,345 annually, but here again, there are perks. Recently Gov. Rick Perry spent $73,000 in tax money on DPS security during a trip to the Mideast. That’s expensive bodyguards schlepping bags and fetching coffee. Now, he’s just back from a weeklong trip to Europe with, of course, a state trooper entourage. During the renovation of the Governor’s Mansion (which may take a little longer than expected because there were too few DPS troopers on watch to prevent an arsonist from torching the place) the Perry family is living in an Austin house renting for $9,600 a month. Upon retirement, our ex-legislators receive a pension tied to those of state judges who, curiously enough, are voted very nice pensions by the legislators. As noted, our lawmakers meet for 140 days in odd-numbered years. (The ongoing joke among the Capitol press corps is that the lawmakers should meet two days every 140 years.) So except for the occasional special session, limited to 30 days, and trips to Austin for hearings in the off season, this is a part-time job. Every now and then some Texas legislator proposes that their positions be made full-time jobs with full-time salaries. Obviously, they would rather live in Austin than in Loving County. But hey, have you ever partied on East 6th Street in Mentone? Texans refuse to authorize annual sessions, remembering the quote of former judge and U.S. Secretary of State Gideon J. Tucker, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.” We hear some of our lawmakers complaining about their low pay. To this we must reply that, as best we can tell, no one has held a gun to their heads and made them run for the statehouse. Indeed, many of our legislators spend a great deal of money to secure the job. But, in fairness, I did have someone tell me that, if Texans paid higher salaries to their state lawmakers, “they’d get a higher class of person – a more intelligent person.” This observation was made to me by a state representative. How do we compare in salary to other state legislatures? A study of legislative pay from 1975 to 2005 by the nonprofit Council of State Governments shows that Indiana lawmakers’ base pay has been stuck at $11,600 for 22 years. That’s still more than Texas pays. Nebraska has awarded only four legislative pay raises since 1934, but Nebraska has a unicameral and – get this – nonpartisan legislature, just one body. (It was a governor of Nebraska who once proposed making the University of Nebraska football players state employees, with an appropriate salary.) Nine states endure full-time lawmakers. One of them, California, also has the highest paid, at $110,880 a year. But California only has 90 reps compared to Texas’ 150, with 40 senators to our 31. New Hampshire pays the least, $100 a year, but it hires the most legislators of any state, 24 senators and – stand by – 400 representatives. According to Stateline.org, nationwide, the median income of the legislators’ constituents rose 50 percent between 1975 and 2005, but the nation’s 7,382 elected state representatives saw their average salaries fall more than 6 percent when adjusted for inflation. Finally, as for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, he flipped again, and vetoed the pay raise. Why not? Obama flipped on taking public money for his campaign. McCain changed his stand on the same thing, plus torture, tax cuts for the rich and (fill in the blank). Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” If that’s the case, we have some great minds loose in the land. Ashby votes at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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