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|Opinions vary on legislative pay hike|
State Sen. Neil Riser won't accept a pay raise the Legislature approved for state lawmakers.
Earlier this week, the Senate concurred with changes the House of Representatives made to Sen. Ann Duplessis' legislation, which, once amended by the House, roughly doubled the annual compensation for members of the Legislature.
Lawmakers currently make $16,800 per year plus per diem and expenses to operate their district offices. The new salary, which takes effect July 1, will raise the pay to some $37,000 per year. Legislators have the option to accept the pay raise or reject it.
"I understood what the job paid when I took it," said Riser, R-Columbia. Riser represents part of Ouachita Parish.
In spite of pressure across the state to veto the pay-raise bill, Gov. Bobby Jindal has repeatedly said he will not veto it.
The pay-raise bill entails a $143 allowance for personal expenses while lawmakers are in session in Baton Rouge. Also, lawmakers will receive some $6,000 a year in "unvouchered expenses," or money lawmakers can spend at their discretion.
The Duplessis bill originally called for tripling the annual compensation legislators are paid. The House amended the measure late last week, authoring a roughly 100 percent increase in legislative salaries.
State Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, said he intended to accept the pay hike but would donate the additional funds to charities and projects in his district.
"I made a promise to the people and I always try to keep my promises," Walsworth said.
State Rep. Frank Hoffman, who voted for the raises, said he believed the new salaries were not out of line with what lawmakers should be making.
"There has not been a pay raise since 1980," said Hoffman, R-West Monroe. "There are very few people who make the same salary now that they made in 1980 in the jobs their in."
"I think the job responsibility and the work merits it," Hoffman said.
Hoffman responded to criticism of the pay raise by saying he voted his conscious and would leave it to voters to decide.
"I thought it was the right thing to do and, ultimately, I have to make that decision on every bill that comes before us," Hoffman said.
State Sen. Francis Thompson questioned the logic of a state that consistently raises the salary of judges to thwart corruption in the judicial system but won't provide legislators with better compensation.
"Why do we always say we're going to pay judges so they will not be tempted to be influenced by the wrong type of influence?" said Thompson, D-Delhi. "The same thing holds true even more so in (other branches of) government."
Thompson said the legislative pay raises will amount to approximately $3 million a year in increased costs to the state.
"What's $3 million in a budget of $33 billion?" Thompson said.
In addition to Hoffman and Thompson, Ouachita Parish legislators who voted for the pay raise were Rep. Rosalind Jones and Sen. Bob Kostelka.
State Rep. Kay Katz and Rep. Sam Little voted against raising legislator salaries.
Twice during the past week, The Ouachita Citizen reached Katz for comment. Katz was unable to elaborate on her position, citing time constraints during the session.
Without a gubernatorial veto, the pay hike will become law, meaning legislators who don't opt out of the raise will see the additional money on their checks beginning July 1 of this year.