Community groups such as APANO and Family Forward Oregon are urging Oregon lawmakers to give themselves a raise. Advocates argue that increasing pay for legislators will go a long way to break down barriers for people who want to run for elected office and could increase the diversity of the state legislature. SB 1566 would increase lawmakers’ salaries, starting in 2023, by tying them to the annual occupational mean wage estimate for Oregon. If the bill becomes law, it would also offer a monthly child care stipend of $1000 to lawmakers with children under the age of 13. Similar efforts have failed in past legislative sessions. We hear what it will take to get it passed this time. Our guests are Courtney Helstein, political director for Family Forward Oregon,, and state Sen. James Manning Jr., a Democrat from Eugene.
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Note: This transcript was computer generated and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: We turn now to the salaries of Oregon lawmakers and a push to increase them. Right now, the base pay for Oregon lawmakers is around $33,000 a year. But under a bill that had its first hearing last week, that would go up to about $57,000, which is the average annual salary in the state. Going forward, it would automatically go up or, theoretically, go down with that average. Lawmakers with kids under the age of 13 would also get a $1,000 a month bonus for childcare. Proponents say all of this would diversify the pool of people who would even consider running for office in the first place. There is no organized opposition to the bill. For more on this proposal, I’m joined by Courtney Helstein, political director for Family Forward Oregon, and James Manning, Jr., one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 1566, a Democratic state senator from Eugene.
Senator Manning, on paper, yours is a part time job, especially in even numbered years like this one when you are only in session for 35 days. Why should you and your 89 lawmaker colleagues get a big raise?
James Manning, Jr.: That is a good question. Let me respond to it like this. It’s said that we have a part-time job when in fact it is more than part-time, it’s full-time. I spend a number of hours throughout the day and throughout the year meeting with constituents, meeting with groups of people, listening to their concerns, advocating for their concerns, and I’m always on the move. Since I have been in elected office, I had to replace my personal car twice and buy new cars. This has nothing to do with anything that’s coming out of the legislation. This is only because I am blessed to have the means to do that. Earlier today, I spoke with a House member. She is currently working two part-time jobs just to make ends meet. If you have lawmakers, elected officials, that go into public service and then have to live on public subsidies, what does that look like for our state?
Dave Miller: Courtney Helstein, how often does pay come up when you talk to people who are considering running for seats in the legislature?
Courtney Helstein: It comes up quite a bit. I do think that there’s a common misconception that somehow our state representatives and senators are making quite a bit more for their service than they are. And sometimes in having conversations with folks that approach us or other organizations considering this, there’s the look of shock on their face and almost a little bit of disappointment for folks who really felt this calling and thought that they had valuable experience and policy ideas to share with the state. There’s just so many barriers and so many considerations for someone who is thinking about doing this work.
Dave Miller: What do you see as the effects of that?
Courtney Helstein: I think we’ve seen the effect of that is that historically Oregon’s legislature has been whiter, wealthier, and older than Oregon’s general population. Again, there’s so many reasons and considerations for someone to run, the purpose of this bill is really about who has the opportunity to serve here in the state, and is there one kind of barrier that we can help alleviate so that public service through serving in the state legislature is more of a practical option for folks.
Dave Miller: James Manning, it’s clear how some voters could view this as lawmakers literally enriching themselves when those same lawmakers, many of them, say that not enough taxpayer money is going to schools or social services or housing or healthcare. How would you respond to that?
James Manning, Jr.: Let me respond in this way. As Courtney mentioned, there are a lot of people with good paying jobs that would not consider doing this work. I would also refer you over to some of the county commissioners. Some counties pay upwards of almost six figures and they’re staying in the county. As a state senator, I travel across the state. I do a lot of work that requires my personal resources and finances to support me. And I do this because I am concerned. I ask my constituents to hire me to work on their behalf.
One thing I want to make sure that we clear up: childcare compensation is not for every child. It’s one time. We don’t have a lot of people currently in the legislator with small children, but we do have new, younger millennials coming in that are starting families. That’s only one per family, not per child, so it’s not a matter of enriching. If you look at the cost of childcare out there for the average person, most people cannot afford that. We’re asking people that volunteer to step forward to give up their personal resources and there’s nothing to compensate them. The turnover in the house is between 30 and 50 percent because people cannot afford to do this work. If we want to retain and get new talent that’s going to help us move our legislation into the next 20 years, then we have to make sure that we are providing a platform that is fair and equitable. We’re always talking about fair pay. This is a problem that we’ve been dealing with for so long. Do we want to have constant turnover because people just can’t afford it? Do we only want people with means to run the state government?
Dave Miller: Courtney Helstein, similar bills have not gone anywhere in recent years. They stalled in committee in both 2019 and 2021. Is anything different now?
Courtney Helstein: Yes, I do think it’s different now. I do always think the way that bills like this can come up or how they might be perceived can put lawmakers in a difficult spot when they’re making these decisions. And while we’ve had really great partnership and leadership with lawmakers in the Senate to help us bring this forward, this policy actually came from the community, from organizations that are representing communities who are directly impacted by financial barriers that could keep someone from deciding to serve in the legislature, folks like us, culturally specific organizations like Coalitions of Communities of Color and APANO to labor unions like SEIU Local 503 to the Portland Business Alliance. So, we have a broad group of stakeholders that really see the value in this and see the talent that Oregon is potentially leaving on the table because we’re not making it possible for every Oregonian to serve their state.
Dave Miller: Courtney Helstein and James Manning, Jr., thanks for joining us today.
Helstein/Manning: Thank you.
Dave Miller: Courtney Helstein is political director for Family Forward Oregon. James Manning, Jr is a Democratic state senator from Eugene district seven and one of the chief sponsors of Senate Bill 1566.