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Lawmakers propose big raises for themselves, other officials
Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) rubs his head as the debate on HB 531 persists in the House Chambers on day 25 of the legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta, Monday, March 1, 2021. - photo by Associated Press

ATLANTA — Georgia's House speaker is backing a plan that would nearly double pay for lawmakers and also boost pay for all statewide officials except the governor.

Base pay for the 180 House members and 56 senators would rise from $16,200 a year to $29,908.

Lawmaker pay hasn't changed since 1999, according to the State Compensation Commission. Consumer prices have risen 59% since then, according to federal figures.

"I don't know many people who have gone that long without some kind of pay raise," House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, told reporters Wednesday. "We have people that give three full months or more of their life each year to come up here and be here full time."

Rep. Wes Cantrell, who is sponsoring House Bill 675 to implement the pay raises beginning after the 2022 elections, told the House Rules Committee on Wednesday that many people can't afford to seek election because of low pay, and that what is supposed to be a part-time job eats up a lot of time even when lawmakers aren't in Atlanta. The committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the full House.

"We need to open it up so that more Georgians can have the possibility of public service, especially in the General Assembly," said Cantrell, a Woodstock Republican. "It shouldn't cost money to serve. We lose some of our best each year because it costs money for them to serve."

Last year, lawmakers and the lieutenant governor actually took a 14% pay cut, agreeing to reduce their salaries because of state budget cuts.

Cantrell said the increases would cost about $3.2 million a year

If adopted, the measure would index legislative pay to inflation, with Cantrell saying "hopefully we'll never have to address this subject again." The measure would also index the per diem payments that lawmakers get for attending to legislative business outside of the session to inflation, and increase mileage payments for lawmakers who live more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the capitol. The bill also allows lawmakers to continue to claim up to $7,000 in expenses each year in in addition to per diem.

The measure would not increase retirement payments for lawmakers, but Cantrell said if the General Assembly passes his bill, he will seek to increase retirement for lawmakers next year.

The lieutenant governor's salary would rise from $91,609 to $135,000, while the House speaker's salary would rise from about $99,000 to $135,000. The House speaker pro tem and Senate president pro tem would get an extra $6,000 a year over regular legislative salaries.

The governor's salary would remain $175,000 per year, and state Supreme Court justices wouldn't get raises. But all other statewide officers would get the following raises:

  • Attorney General: $139,168 to $165,6111.
  • Secretary of State: $123,640 to $147,128.
  • Agriculture Commissioner: $123,998 to $144,653.
  • Insurance Commissioner: $120,394 to $143,269.
  • Labor Commissioner: $122,786 to $146,115.
  • State School Superintendent: $123,270 to $146,691.
  • Public Service Commissioners: $121,757 to $138,974.

Cantrell said all the salaries in his bill are the amounts recommended by the State Compensation Commission, even though the commission found that lawmakers in states similar to Georgia generally are paid more.

"I think there's the appetite to do this this year," Cantrell said. "If we don't do it this year, it may never happen. I think it's very appropriate and easily defensible."

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