The Bulletin Board

Lawmaker proposes slashing legislators’ pay to 2 cents per biennium

By: - September 27, 2021 1:24 pm
NH state house

Without remote access, many people will not be able to participate in the legislative process. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Pay for New Hampshire lawmakers has remained the same since 1889, a situation that a legislative proposal seeks to change. It’s not the raise that some have advocated for.

A proposal in the upcoming legislative session looks to cut the $200 per biennium lawmakers currently earn to 2 cents per biennium, and 1 cent per day during special sessions. Presiding officers, such as the Senate president and the speaker of the House, are currently paid $250, and their salary would also be cut under the proposal. The rate lawmakers are compensated for mileage – currently 57.5 cents per mile, which is tied to the federal rate – wouldn’t be affected under the proposal. Other benefits, like the health care plan that some lawmakers pay into, would also remain unchanged.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, New Hampshire legislators currently receive the lowest salary of the 41 states that pay legislators, and their pay has gone the longest without an adjustment. Texas is the second lowest paying state with a 1976 raise setting a $7,200 salary. And in 2021, base legislative salaries showed a trend of slight increases, with the average base pay up to $39,216 from $38,370 in 2020.

Adjusted for inflation, the 1889 pay of $200 per biennium would be around $6,000 in today’s dollars. But Rep. Brodie Deshaies, a Wolfeboro Republican, said most New Hampshire residents think of their lawmakers as volunteers and that the pay should reflect that perception.

“I still hold that we’re volunteers. I’d prefer our politicians to stay as volunteers and for our compensation to reflect such,” he said.

Deshaies called the $200 per biennium “very minuscule compensation that is hardly compensation at all” and estimated that the proposal would save around $84,000 that could go to funding support staff or other programs. Deshaies said the proposal has bipartisan support, with Jim Maggiore, a North Hampton Democrat to sign on as a co-sponsor, although he acknowledged that it could also face bipartisan opposition in the legislative process.

The payment scheme has been criticized for its failure to ensure that the Legislature is open to candidates regardless of economic status. Some Democrats, like Tony Labranche of Amherst, the state’s youngest legislator, said it discriminates against working-class people and skews representation in Concord away from those working a full-time job. Deshaies said the problem was more about a candidate’s ability to arrange their schedule than payment.

Because the proposal would be a constitutional amendment, it would have to pass both the House and Senate with a two-thirds majority and would require voter approval in a referendum.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.