HELENA — Montana lawmakers will consider changing how their pay is calculated when they meet in January, which would result in a 69 percent pay raise if approved.
The Legislative Council last month voted to draft a bill to base legislative pay on the average salaries of lawmakers in Montana and four surrounding states starting in 2021. The Aug. 23 meeting in Lewistown was not broadcast live, but a recording shows legislative leaders from both parties saying they’re underpaid, especially when compared to the executive and judicial branches of government.
“It is beyond ironic that we make less than a teenager working in a McDonald’s in Helena,” said House Minority Leader Jenny Eck, D-Helena.
Montana lawmakers are scheduled to make $92.46 a day for the 90-day 2019 legislative session. That’s compared to the $156 per day average for lawmakers in Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, which would be the Montana salary if the bill passes next year.
That salary does not include $114 per day lawmakers that receive for expenses, a $3,000 constituent services account or a $1,500 information technology allowance.
The salaries of Montana’s governor, other statewide officeholders and Supreme Court justices are already based on the average salaries of the four neighboring states. It’s only fair for lawmakers representing the third branch of government to be compensated the same way as the other two, said Senate President Scott Sales, R-Bozeman.
“I think it’s beyond time the legislature is more adequately compensated,” he said.
Montana has a part-time citizen’s legislature that meets every other year. State law sets lawmakers’ pay at $11.33 per hour during the session, a rate that is adjusted when state workers receive a pay increase, as will happen in 2019.
But in reality, lawmakers work for hours each week on their legislative duties in between sessions and “don’t see a dime for that time,” Eck said.
“If we don’t deal with this issue, we will get to the point where the only people who can afford to serve are independently wealthy or retired and that’s not a good representation of the people in the state,” she said.
Eck is not running for re-election and would not benefit from the pay raise. Sales would be termed out of office before it takes effect in 2021.