By PHILLIP RAWLS
Published: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 10:30 a.m.
MONTGOMERY — Several Republican legislators are working on a plan to lower the Legislature’s compensation and make sure the Legislature can’t change its pay plan again without a vote of Alabama citizens.
Sens. Phil Williams and Bryan Taylor and Rep. Mike Ball are writing a proposed constitutional amendment that would repeal the 61 percent increase the Legislature gave itself in 2007 and replace it with a salary tied to Alabama’s median household income. They plan to offer the legislation in the session starting Tuesday.
“Lawmakers will never be able to vote themselves a pay raise again,” said Taylor, R-Prattville.
Alabama’s 1901 Constitution provides for legislators to receive $10 a day in pay. Over the years, the Legislature has been able to increase its expense allowance without a vote of the people like a constitutional amendment would require.
In 2007, legislators increased their compensation 61 percent from $36,660 to $49,500. They also provided for automatic annual increases tied to the Consumer Price Index, which has boosted compensation to $52,646.
When Republicans took control of the Legislature from Democrats in the 2010 election, some Republicans, including Taylor, tried to repeal the 2007 raise, but their proposal went nowhere. Some lawmakers said they had run expecting the higher compensation and didn’t want to lower it during their four-year term.
Williams, Taylor and Ball haven’t taken the full compensation. Their proposed constitutional amendment would tie legislative pay to Alabama’s median household income, which was $40,547 in 2010. In addition, legislators would get the same travel expenses as state employees, which is $75 a day for an overnight trip in Alabama. There would be no travel reimbursement for trips within their legislative districts, such as attending town hall meetings and speaking to civil clubs, the legislators said.
The plan with travel expenses would boost legislators’ compensation for a normal legislative year to $43,697, Taylor said. If there are special sessions or if legislators serve on committees that meet between sessions, they would get more travel money that would increase their compensation, but they would still be below the current compensation level.
The constitutional amendment would need approval by the Legislature this spring and by voters in the November election. It would take effect with the Legislature elected in November 2014. Changing it would take another constitutional amendment.
“It takes legislative pay out of the hands of the Legislature and ties the pay to something objective,” Williams, R-Rainbow City, said.
If the median household income goes down like it did during the recession, lawmakers would get a pay cut. If it goes up, legislators would get a raise. Ball, R-Madison, said it will encourage the Legislature to improve Alabama’s economy and get more people working, which will raise the median household income.
“There is no better measure of our performance than the median household income,” he said Monday.
All the sponsors are optimistic about their plan because some legislative leaders are praising it.
“Voters should decide how to compensate legislators, and I believe having our income rise or fall based on the job we do with the state’s economy is a great idea,” House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said.