Oklahoma's lawmakers won't be getting a raise any time soon, a state panel decided on Tuesday.
The Legislative Compensation Board, which meets every two years, voted 7-1 on Tuesday for the $38,400 base pay, along with the retirement and benefits package, to remain the same for Oklahoma's 149 legislators. Former state Sen. Charles Ford, R-Tulsa, who had urged the panel to consider hiking the base pay to $44,000 annually, was the lone dissenting vote.
Oklahoma legislators received their last pay hike in 1998, when it was boosted from $32,000 annually, and Ford suggested a competitive salary was needed to recruit qualified members to spend time away from their families.
"The problem is, without compensation you don't get someone who is independent thinking," Ford said.
But several members of the panel noted Oklahoma's compensation package appears to be competitive, especially when compared to contiguous states.
Oklahoma's lawmakers, who meet for an annual session that runs from February until May, rank 16th in the nation for its salary and per diem benefits, according to Oklahoma's Office of Management and Enterprise Services. But their salary and benefits package is higher than all states that border Oklahoma, said OMES revenue analyst Shelly Paulk, who briefed the panel on the current benefits state lawmakers receive.
In addition to the $38,400 base salary, legislators who live outside a 50-mile radius of the Capitol receive a $147 daily per diem when the Legislature is in session, an amount that is set to increase to $153 in 2014. All legislators also receive a 56-cents-per-mile travel reimbursement, a health benefit allowance of $640.98 per month, and an optional retirement benefit with a 3.5 percent legislator contribution and eight years to become vested.
"With today's government and today's environment, I think we would not be looked on as wise members of this committee if we were to do increases, especially with the federal government shutdown, and cuts here and cuts there," said board chairman Wes Milbourn, an appointee of the governor.
___ Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy
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