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Archive for June, 2010

There’s a dirty little secret your legislators don’t want you to know.

Hiding behind the misnomer “automatic,” they were quick to agree to freeze state classified employee pay raises, but considerably more reluctant to take action adverse to their own part-time legislative income. But first, let us debunk what lawmakers prefer to disparingly refer to as “automatic” 4 percent annual raises for state civil service employees. The increases attacked by the Gang of 144 are merit increases and they are neither automatic nor annual. There comes a time when an employee maxes out on his or her raises and unless the employee is promoted or takes another job in state government, the raises, no matter how well the employee performs, stop. Period.

Of course, that’s not the case with legislators. Just last October, a true “automatic” increase from $145 to $159 in legislative per diem kicked in, giving legislators an automatic–and secret–increase of 9.5 percent. That’s $159 per day for every day of the 85-day session (60 days in odd-numbered years–$13,515 and $9,540 per session, respectively) despite the fact that neither the House nor the Senate meets on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays. Neither do they meet on Memorial Day. That’s as many as 37 days during the 85-day session and 24 days in odd-numbered years during which they do not convene but for which they are paid nonetheless. That’s $847,152 during the 85-day sessions and $549,504 during 60-day sessions that is paid to members in abstention. Pro-rate that over 10 years and you can see how members of the legislature have ripped the state of to the tune of nearly $7 million–and that doesn’t even include special sessions that may arise.

But wait! There’s more!

Legislators draw a flat salary of $16,800 per year. Per diem for an 85-day session adds another $13,515 (60-day session per diem payments come to $9,540). Each legislator also receives an un-vouchered expense allowance of $6,000, plus up to $1,500 per month in other vouchered expenses. That comes to $50,340 to $54,315, depending on odd- or even-year sessions but not counting special sessions, for a part-time job. Either figure is considerably more than the average civil service employee makes for his or her full-time service. Moreover, each legislator receives a laptop computer for the Capitol, a desktop computer with high-speed internet service, up to three telephone lines for his or her district office, and up to $3,000 per month for the salary of a legislative aide. Finally, legislators serving on or before Jan. 1, 1997, or who were already participating in a public retirement system at that time, are eligible for retirement benefits of 3.5 percent of the member’s annual salary for each year of service. State civil service employees, by comparison, receive 2.5 percent of their annual salaries in retirement benefits.

Other Southern States.

Georgia legislators, make $49,000 a year which is comparable to Louisiana if you don’t count the perks provided their counterparts in Louisiana. In Alabama, lawmakers make about $33,110 per year and in Mississippi, the Senate took the unique step this year of voting 39-2 to lower legislators’ salaries by 10 percent. The measure, however, died in the House. Still Mississippi legislators make only $10,000 per year and in Arkansas, legislators draw a whopping $12,796 per year. Before you praise Mississippi too much, however, it should be noted that the legislature cut social welfare by 23.16 percent this year and hospitals and hospital schools by 16.68 percent. The smallest budget cut, however, was that of the legislature, which slashed its own budget by a measley 1.06 percent. Public education in Mississippi was cut by 5.73 percent and higher education’s cut was 3.42 percent and even as teachers across the state were facing layoffs, SB 2610 authorized increases of up to $8,300 per year to district attorneys in Mississippi.

Louisiana doesn’t seem to be unique when it comes to questionable legislation. Still, state civil service employees were caught off-guard when Rep. John M. Schroder (R-Abita Springs) attempted to push through legislation that would have forced them to take unpaid leave on legal holidays. As the controversy swirled around his proposed bill, he was asked to respond yes or no to a number of questions, one of which was “Have you accepted the $14 per day increase in per diem payments that automatically went into effect last October?” his response was a somewhat non-committal, “God bless you.” His bill to strip paid leave for holidays from employees failed.

Another bill that calls the courage of some 21 House members into question was HB 1390 by Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard (I-Thibodaux).

Richard, apparently recognizing the double standard of legislators’ accepting a 9.6% increase in per diem while denying 4% merit increases for classified employees, proposed freezing the per diem rate at $159 for two years, until July 2, 2012.

Richard’s bill, when brought brfore the full House, received 51 votes with 31 voting against HB 1390–just two votes shy of the majority needed for passage.

Those voting in favor of the bill: Damone Baldone, Taylor Barras, Robert Billiot, Jared Brossett, Richard Burford, Henry Burns, Tim Burns, Stephen Carter, Simone Champagne, Charles Chaney, Patrick Connick, Patrick Cortez, George Cromer, Michael Danahay, Herbert Dixon, Franklin Foil, Richard Gallot, Brett Geymann, Jerry Gisclair, Rickey Hardy, Lowell Hazel, Cameron Henry, Dorothy Hill, Frank Hoffmann, Nita Hutter, Robert Johnson, Sam Jones, Chuck Kleckley, John LaBruzzo, Nancy Landry, Walt Leger, Anthony Ligi, Samuel Little, Nick Lorusso, Rickey Nowlin, Kevin Pearson, Jonathan Perry, Rogers Pope, Jerome Richard, Clifton Richardson, Cedric Richmond, Christopher Roy, John Schroder, Gary Smith, Jane Smith, Karen St. Germain, Charmaine Stiaes, Kirk Talbot, Major Thibaut, Wayne Waddell, and Thomas Willmott.

Voting against the bill: House Speaker Jim Tucker, John Anders, James Armes, Jerrery Arnold, Elton Aubert, Austin Badon, Bobby Badon, Thomas Carmody, Billy Chandler, Jean Doerge, John Edwards, Hunter Greene, Joe Harrison, Reed Henderson, Frank Howard, Girod Jackson, Michael Jackson, Kay Katz, Eddie Lambert, Bernard LeBas, Joseph Lopinto, Tom McVea, Nickie Montica, Jack Montoucet, Barbara Norton, Stephen Pugh, Harold Ritchie, Joel Robideaux, Scott Simon, Patricia Smith, and Ernest Wooton.

Considering the financial plight of the state as a whole and the denial of merit raises for deserving employees in particular, we’re not at all pleased with those who voted to keep their own automatic increases but those who took a walk during the vote are particularly worthy of our disdain. A vote this important demands that each member display a modicum of courage and vote his or her convictions. To do otherwise is cowardly and demands an explanation.

So, here are those who did not vote on a key issue that failed by only two votes: Neil Abramson, Regina Barrow, Roy Burrell, Gordon Dove, Hollis Downs, Noble Ellington, James Fannin, A.B. Franklin, Mickey Guillory, John Guinn, Walker Hines, Rosalind Jones, Juan LaFonta, Fred Mills, James Morris, Erich Ponti, M.J. Smiley, Rickey Templet, Ledricka Thierry, Mack White, and Patrick Williams.

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