Select Page

Politics: The art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies. – Groucho Marx

Let’s be Democratic about this.

All of those favoring a pay raise for South Dakota legislators, raise your hands.


I don’t see many hands going up.

But wait.

Is it possible that voters are unaware that citizen lawmakers are paid a paltry $6,000 a year, plus a per diem of $140 for expenses?

Are these not poverty wages? Actually, no.

The Executive Board of the South Dakota Legislature recently endorsed a proposal that would let voters determine if lawmakers should be paid more. The plan, if approved, would change the state Constitution and set the pay at 20 percent of the state median wage, which would make the new salary about $10,000.

I wouldn’t say that a raise is entirely unreasonable since it’s been 20 years since an adjustment was made. And it’s also often overlooked that being a legislator isn’t a 9 to 5 job. That’s when the public work occurs, with committee hearings in the morning and full sessions in the afternoon. But studying the bills that will come up for a vote and answering constituents’ questions also take a significant amount of time. Moreover, the weekends during the session involve public meetings and there is also constituent service after the Legislature adjourns.

Point being, it’s not just a 40-day job over three months.

Still, the salary and per diem cover a lawmaker’s expenses and the job is, after all, public service. No one forces a person to run for office; most want to serve the state’s best interests, at least from his or her point of view.

It’s also true that some states pay their lawmakers more – and some pay less – but South Dakota has a tradition of conservative fiscal policy, which is a good thing.

Advocates of higher pay have suggested that the only people who can run are retirees and those who own their own business.  This isn’t true, of course. Teachers, nurses and those from other occupations have served.  And those retirees? They come from various walks of life – a definite positive. The professional and business people who serve, including farmers and ranchers, are able to take time away from their enterprises back home, which indicates they are doing something right.

Pay raises, in general, are best tied to performance. Lawmakers apparently believe that a 70 percent increase is warranted.

It’s too much. I am one of those who cannot raise his hand in support.

Editor’s note: Noel Hamiel, a retired newspaperman, also served in the state Legislature.

Nov. 29, 2017