You are currently viewing OPINION: We don’t pay our local elected officials enough |  Opinion

OPINION: We don’t pay our local elected officials enough | Opinion

North Carolina’s state motto is “Be Rather Than Appear,” and the state prides itself on its legislature made up of all of its citizens. The early settlers of the colony explicitly wrote against class divisions in the state. However, most of our politicians are extremely rich when entering the civil service. This travesty is the result of an ill-conceived compensation structure for legislative work. The salaries of North Carolina legislators are so low that only the wealthy can afford to hold office.

There are three types of state legislatures: full-time, hybrid, and part-time. North Carolina claims to be a part-time legislative body, a so-called citizen legislature, whose legislators work part-time for the General Assembly and spend the rest of their time working in their home districts. The goal was to keep legislators directly connected to their districts and their prosperity.

In fact, North Carolina has become a hybrid legislature according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and is pushing lawmakers away from their constituencies more and more every year.

In a hybrid legislature, legislators spend about 2/3 of the time a full-time job would require on their legislative responsibilities, for which their annual salary is about $41,100 per year. In part-time states, the time commitment is closer to 57%. The salary reflects this, at an average of $18,449 per year. Full-time legislators typically spend 84% of their time and earn an average of $82,358. As shown BallotNorth Carolina lawmakers earn $13,951 a year, despite acting as a hybrid legislature.

According to United States Census, North Carolina is the ninth most populous state, and with a divided government and a growing budget, lawmakers have stayed in Raleigh for longer and longer sessions. This last session is the longest in North Carolina history, lasting 199 days. By comparison, both the US House and Senate were in session for just over 160 days in 2021. Members of the U.S. House and Senate make $174,000 per yearfar more than those in North Carolina.

For the time they have to spend working in Raleigh, lawmakers should earn more than they currently earn. This low salary is below the average for part-time legislatures and well below the average for hybrid legislatures. Yet the amount of work required for the job exceeds that of hybrid legislatures and even some full-time legislatures.

These sessions, which no official departure and the end date through constitutional amendment or house rule, serve to indirectly disenfranchise North Carolinians. The temporal expectations of the modern General Assembly prevent ordinary working-class citizens from representing their state if they so choose, especially in the remote districts of Wake County. The only people who can truly be legislators in our current system are those who are already wealthy or who receive extreme indulgence from their employers.

In other words, the elites are fully in control of a state that ranks 20th income inequalitywith a median household income of only $56,642 and 12.9% of people living in poverty, as shown by the census. In our current structure, the citizens’ legislature that was intended has become everything but. Of the 170 members who make up the General Assembly, 35 are retired, and 83 others hold well-paid positions (lawyer, business manager, etc.) or own a business. With more legislators become retired in every session, only the wealthy seem to be able to afford to be legislators.

To make representation more accessible to North Carolinians across class, race, gender, or geographic location, we need to embrace one of two things. Whichever option is chosen, it should also be accompanied by serious campaign finance reform to make campaigning a possibility for all.

Our first option is to increase the amount we pay our legislators to reflect the amount of work we expect of them. Making work more affordable will be one of the first steps in making the job accessible to everyone. In my opinion, this would mean that the salary be at least equal to that of the median household income in North Carolina ($56,642/year) so that legislators who may have to travel far from home can still support themselves. in Raleigh.

Our second option is to pass a law limiting the length of Assembly sessions. If we want to have a truly part-time legislature, we have to enforce that part-time element. On top of that, lawmakers would need legal protections prohibiting employers from firing their employees because of their responsibilities to the state. With this rule will come the expectation of faster decisions and far less blocking and postponing.

If you’re not wealthy, retired, or don’t have a strong connection to your employer, it’s nearly impossible to work as a state legislator. It gets even harder the further you get from Raleigh. Political power cannot be entrusted to a single class. We have to go back to the North Carolina’s egalitarian roots and to ensure that our Citizens’ Legislature is truly made up of all citizens.

Leave a Reply