Since the 1999 session, South Dakota legislators have received $6,000 apiece per year as their basic salaries. They also receive mileage for official trips and, if approved, airline compensation, as well as lodging payments for official trips during the interim. During session, they each receive $123 per day of the session, pre-paid, for their expenses including lodging, meals and other costs. Now several lawmakers want to increase the basic salary. Sen. Larry Lucas, D-Mission, and Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, outlined their respective proposals Monday during a meeting of the Legislature’s Executive Board. The board decided to set the matter aside until a meeting later this fall. Lucas wants to raise the salary by $2,000 while Tieszen wants to increase it $4,000. One catch in Tieszen’s proposal is that a current legislator couldn’t ever get the raise — as in never — even if elected to a new term, elected to the other chamber or left and came back for a term some time year in the future.
Lucas in 2008 nearly succeeded in passing a $2,000 raise. He was a member of the House then, and his original bill called for a $1,000 increase. Then the House State Affairs Committee on a voice vote took his $7,000 proposal up to $10,000. The House, in an amendment by then-Rep. Ryan Olson, R-Onida, took the total back down to $8,000 and approved HB 1250 on a vote of 54-14, with a combination of Democrats and Republicans voting for and a cross-mix voting against it. The bill went to the Senate, where the Senate State Affairs Committee endorsed it 6-3, again in a bipartisan vote. Eight days later the bill died in the Senate, as Sen. Bob Gray, R-Pierre, asked that it be tabled, meaning there wouldn’t be any debate on it. The tabling vote was 29-4.
One new factor this time might be the independent study that the Executive Board commissioned on the Legislature and the Legislative Research Council. Several staff members from the National Conference of State Legislatures are conducting the study, with the final report due Sept. 20. At this point, the Executive Board’s next meeting is Sept. 25. Lucas said a unanimous, bipartisan vote from the Executive Board on a piece of draft legislation for the 2014 session could be a difference maker. Meanwhile Rep. Brian Gosch, who as the House speaker is its presiding officer, noted Monday that legislative rules call for a bipartisan committee of representatives and senators to set the session salary. Gosch, R-Rapid City, said that conflicts with the state law which specifically sets the salary. A lawyer, he suggested that perhaps the specific amount be removed from state law and the special committee be allowed to do its work as set in the rules. Gosch, by the way, was a nay in 2008.