Legislators getting their biggest salary increase in decades

Tennessee legislators will soon get their biggest salary increase in decades, a $1,783 per year boost to $22,667.

The increase is in accord with a law enacted by the General Assembly in 2005, which calls for increases in legislator pay every two-year legislative session to match the increase in compensation paid to state employees over the prior two years. State Comptroller Justin Wilson makes the official calculation and advised Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Administration, of the new base salary figure in an Oct. 10 letter.

The current annual base salary of most legislators is $20,884 and the 8.6 percent increase will take effect on Election Day, Nov. 8. The speakers of the House and Senate get three times the salary of other legislators, meaning their base pay will increase from $62,532 annually to $68,001.

Legislators also get a “per diem” daily expense allowance while engaged in lawmaking activities that was increased from $204 to $220 effective Oct. 1 for lawmakers living more than 50 miles from the state Capitol, where legislative sessions are held. For those living within 50 miles, the per diem rate remains unchanged at $59 per day – a figure that reflects the estimated cost of meals for a day’s stay in Nashville.

The per diem rate for those living more than 50 miles away includes a calculation of the average cost of a motel room in Nashville, which recent reports have indicated are among the highest in the nation. All legislators also get 47 cents per mile for driving from their home to the Capitol, a rate that remains unchanged for the coming year.

In the first year the law on base pay was applied, 2006, legislators saw their salaries increase from $16,500 to $18,123, or by $1,623. It was their first increase in base salary since 1988. The biggest increase since then was in 2012, when pay was boosted by $1,194 per year. There was no increase in 2010 since state employees at the time had gone two years without a salary increase.

Legislator benefits also include $1,000 as a “home office allowance,” a figure unchanged since 2005, and coverage of up to 80 percent of the cost for health insurance for those who choose to become part of the state employee insurance program.

Nationally, state legislator salaries vary widely, according to figures compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. An NCSL chart for 2016 indicates California has the highest base salary, $100,113. Texas at $7,500 is among the lowest in legislator salary. Mississippi and South Carolina both have base legislator salaries of $10,000 per year.

The NCSL chart indicates Tennessee has one of the highest per diem rates with only Alaska – at $223 per day – paying more. Several states do not provide an automatic daily expense payment to lawmakers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *