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Pay Scale: State Senators

The recent election certainly changed the political landscape; while congressional power has shifted to the Democrats, all Senators and Congressmen are paid equally in Washington D.C., regardless of which state they represent.

However, that consistency does not exist on the state level. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures and their 2005 annual salary survey of lawmakers (in each of the 50 states), the pay rate for state senators and representatives differs from state to state. So if you’re thinking of running for office, you might want to do a salary comparison before taking the plunge.

Let's take a look at how the state senators' pay scale varies between Arkansas and California. In Arkansas, a lawmaker’s annual salary is a paltry $14,067; while in California, state senators and representatives are paid an annual salary of $110,880. If the work lawmakers do is proportional to the number of citizens, the Californians are getting a deal: each state senator in California costs each citizen 0.3 cents, while the price is 0.5 cents per lawmaker per citizen in Arkansas :-)

Is your salary closer to an Arkansas or California state senator? Find out with our exclusive PayScale salary survey.

Goin’ South with Salary Range

There is more interesting data in the 2005 salary survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures: Alabama State Senators and Representatives earn a measly annual salary of $10 per calendar day ($3,650/year), but the Crimson Tide lawmakers also get a monthly per diem of $2,280, or $76/day. Huh? is it not pay if it is called a per diem in Alabama? By the way, do they realize that "per diem" is Latin for "per day"? What's with the monthly "per diem"?

Strangely, Alabama lawmakers also earn $50 a day for the three days during each week of a legislative session that the legislature meets (confusing?). Adding all the per diems together, the pay is about $150 + 7*($76 + $10) = $752/week, or $39,100 for an annual salary, if the legislature met year round. However, the legislature only meets about 14 weeks a year; this is definitely not a high paying part-time job.

Per diems are a popular way to hide a wage increase, at least in the south: If we do a salary comparison with the Peach State, we find that Georgia State Senators and Representatives also earn a small annual salary of $16,524, but they also earn a per diem of $128 per day. That is $625.00 for a five day work week. If the legislature met year round, that would push the annual salary up to $49,000.

South vs. North, Salary Comparison

When comparing northern and southern states, the salary range is definitely higher up north. For instance, Michigan State Senators earn an annual salary of $79,650 per year, plus a $12,000 yearly expense allowance, which lifts their annual pay rate up to $91,650. That is quite a difference, in salary comparison, to Georgia State Senators. However, Michigan State Senators will spend more on mittens and have to dig their cars out of the snow.

The 2005 salary survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures says that South Dakota State Senators and Reps earn $12,000 for a two year term, which would be a poverty-stricken annual salary of $6000 per year. One bright note is that they do make a per diem of $110 a day. However, this is less than Georgia, and they probably will not be able to do any one a favor that will get them into the Masters and a cocktail party with Tiger Woods.

Atlantic Coast Salary Survey

North Carolina State Senators make a low annual salary of $13,951, but they have a daily per diem of $104, plus a monthly expense allowance of $559. North Carolina is not really completing on pay with Georgia for lawmakers. Instead, they are putting their money into their college basketball teams, and offering tickets to Wake Forest, UNC, NC State, or the crème de la crème, Duke games. The annualized pay rate to $44,059 won't make the lawmakers rich in cash, but the tickets will leave them rich in memories :-)

To state the obvious, there are other advantages to being a state senator. My former neighbor in North Carolina, Wib Gulley, had to trade in his state senator seat when he became general counsel for the local transit authority. Hum, I wonder how his name came up as a possible candidate. I am sure it is unconnected to his previous work as chairman of the senate transportation committee :-) To be fair, Wib was a successful private lawyer a decade ago when I knew him. He probably took a pay cut to become general counsel.

As usual, South Carolina is struggling to keep up with its richer neighbors. The state senators’ pay scale dips down in South Carolina; state lawmakers pull in a lowly annual salary of $10,400, and they get only $95 per day for meals and housing. Let's not even compare this with the northern end of the ACC, Maryland (salary: $40,500).

Go West for a High Salary Range

The National Conference of State Legislatures 2005 salary survey tells us that New Mexico lawmakers do not draw an annual salary, but are given a hefty per diem of $146 per day. In Oregon, a state lawmaker’s annual salary is $16,284, plus $91 per diem per working day, in the same ball park with Georgia and North Carolina.

California state lawmakers are the national big dogs, earning the highest annual salary of $110,880. They also rake in $138.00 per diem for each day that they’re in session. The only lawmakers that even come close to that pay rate are not actually in a state; the District of Columbia pays its lawmakers $92,500 per year (with no per diems), but this is more like a city council position than a state legislator one.

Does your pay fall within your state senators’ pay scale? Want to do a salary comparison? Find out with our salary survey.

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