Alabamians’ median household income increased in 2017, which means Alabama lawmakers received a corresponding 4.03 percent pay increase this year.
Their annual salary is now $48,123. This is the third raise for lawmakers since 2014, when their pay was tied to household incomes through a voter-approved constitutional amendment.
“If legislators want a raise, we need to get the median household income up, and if we can get that up, we’ll deserve a raise,” says state Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison. He sponsored the legislation that led to the constitutional amendment in 2012. The amendment went into effect after the 2014 election with lawmakers earning $42,849.
The latest raise, $1,866, went into effect Jan.1, according to the Alabama Personnel Department memo, which cites 2017 Census data.
Ball, a lawmaker since 2002, said legislators’ pay has always been a hot-button issue. His amendment initially was a pay cut for many lawmakers who’d been earning $49,500 thanks to a 61 percent raise the Democrat-led Legislature gave itself in 2007. They were also allowed annual increases.
“We made a lot of political hay out of that, it was one of the things that helped (Republicans take over the Legislature in 2010),” Ball says about that increase.
Now, because their pay is in a constitutional amendment, lawmakers can’t easily raise it again, Ball says.
“It’s not a political football anymore,” he says.
Though they’re making less in salaries, the amendment allows lawmakers to be reimbursed more for travel to and from Montgomery.
In-state travel for the Legislature, including employees, went from $40,152 in fiscal 2014 to $621,520 in 2018, according to spending records available at open.alabama.gov.
The new pay structure allows lawmakers who live 50 miles from Montgomery to receive an overnight per diem of $75 per day for 45 days of the legislative session, and all members could receive mileage at the same rate as state employees – 55 cents per mile.
Several lawmakers who live in the northern and southern portions of the state had more than $6,000 in travel expenses last year.
Total expenditures for the legislative body have also increased since 2014, from about $21 million to $23.7 million last year.
Secretary of the Senate Pat Harris said recent expense increases include personnel costs, contracted professional services and technology upgrades.
Alabama’s lawmakers are considered a “hybrid” legislature – not full-time, but more than part-time, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
They do most of their legislating during a regular session once a year, meeting usually three days a week for 15 weeks. Occasionally, they’ll meet in a shorter, governor-called special session. There was one special session in 2016 and two in 2015. Lawmakers don’t earn more during sessions, but they are compensated for travel costs.
When not in Montgomery, they may be working on legislation or working in their districts.
Most Alabama lawmakers are retirees or have employment outside the State House.