Pay State Legislators – Talkable Economist

There is a longstanding argument that states should be seen as “laboratories for democracy,” and therefore that changes in policy choices across states should be welcomed—at least to some extent. It is an opportunity to learn from experience.

The following table is a list of how state legislators are compensated across the 50 states, as compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. It would be unwise to jump to quick conclusions from the table. After all, states vary widely in size, population, responsibilities, and time commitments that you can expect from their legislators. However, some of the differences are notably significant. Presumably, the financial incentives offered to state legislators will affect, at least to some extent, both willingness and financial ability to run.

In California and New York, the “base salary” for a state legislator exceeds $100,000 per year. (Many states have additional salaries for state legislators, often based on their own responsibilities.) California is the #1 most populous state, and New York is #4, so one might expect the legislators’ pay to be somewhat high. However, the states of Texas and Florida are #2 and #3 in terms of population, and Texas legislators earn a base wage of $7,200 while Florida lawmakers make about $30,000 in base salary. Some states pay on days when the legislature is in session, often at a rate of $100-$300 per day. New Hampshire and New Mexico have a base wage of zero. It seems clear that in most states, the expectation is that most state legislators will not rely on their payments from the legislature as their only source of household income — but the difference across states is wide.

Most states have a travel reimbursement of about 58.5 cents/mile, tied to the federal reimbursement rate. But New Jersey has no mileage compensation, and instead, Massachusetts has an “office expense salary” of at least $17,000 per year that can be used in part for travel expenses plus daily subsistence costs when the legislature is in session. The last column shows the daily session rates across the states.

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