In addition to federal, county, and local candidates, potential bond and other local issues about which Nebraska voters must decide on November 6, all voters will find four proposed amendments to the Nebraska Constitution as well. To read the full text of all four proposed amendments released by the Nebraska Secretary of State, click here. To read our article about Proposed Amendment No. 3, click here.
This article focuses on Proposed Amendment N0. 4, which if passed, would increase Nebraska State Senators’ salary from the current $12,000 to $22,500.
The official language of Amendment No. 4, as it will appear on ballots statewide, is as follows:
Proposed Amendment No. 4
A vote FOR this constitutional amendment would increase the salary for members of the Legislature from twelve thousand dollars per year to twenty-two thousand five hundred dollars per year,beginning January 2013.
A vote AGAINST this constitutional amendment would result in no change in the salary for members of the Legislature.
A constitutional amendment to change the salary of members of the Legislature to twenty-two thousand five hundred dollars.
In contemplating whether to vote FOR or AGAINST this amendment, it is necessary to ask a number of questions and to look beyond proponents’ statements. For the moment, I’ve attempted to provide basic information and suggest some of the questions worth considering.
GiN’s leadership team believes that Amendments No. 3 & 4 are worthy of a detailed discussion, so we encourage interested voters to…
Join us for an interactive presentation which will:
- Examine Amendments No. 3 & 4 in-depth
- Explore the structure and operation of the Nebraska Unicameral and conduct of our State Senators
- Discuss broader issues about Nebraska government, spending, etc.
Choose from two dates, for your convenience:
Sunday, October 28 or Thursday, November 1
Click HERE for more details and to RSVP
In the meantime, here is the aforementioned basic information and questions to ponder about Proposed Amendment No. 4…
- Amendment No. 4 would change the language in the State Constitution at Article III, Section 7, Legislators; terms; effecting of redistricting; election; salary; expenses; mileage.
- Has been included on the ballot through the provision in the Constitution for the State Legislature to propose amendments (click here to jump to the bottom of this article to read more about the means by which the State Constitution may be amended)
- LR373CA was introduced by District 18 Senator Scott Lautenbaugh on January 2012 with an original proposal for a salary amount of $32,000 (see next bullet)
- The State Legislature’s Executive Board designated LR373CA as its priority resolution on February 16, 2012, and introduced an amendment, passed into the final language, which reduced the proposed salary amount to $22,5001 Each State Senator gets to prioritize one bill per session, and each Legislative Committee may designate two priority bills. The Legislative Executive Board is a relatively recent invention, from what I’ve learned in doing research.
- LR373CA was approved by the Legislature – without any floor debate – by a vote of 31 AYES, 15 NAYS, 1 Present and not voting, 2 Not Present and excused, on April 4, 2012 (click here to jump to the section with a roll call vote)
IMPORTANT HISTORY –
PREVIOUS EFFORTS BY LEGISLATORS – SALARY INCREASES, ADDING RETIREMENT BENEFITS
State Senators have attempted to place a measure to increase salaries on the ballot multiple times in the past, several of which have been in very recent years. Note that detailed exploration online of all past attempts is limited by uneven access to public documents and news reports prior to the mid-1990s, but, considering the numerous actions by Nebraska’s Legislators on this subject which can be found online, diving into the archives doesn’t seem necessary at this time.
Some of the available documents make reference directly or infer that there there have been past attempts pre-dating those I’ve listed here.
1988 – Increased from $4,800 to $12,000. Details such as bill or amendment numbers are difficult to obtain, for source, see footnote2 In the March 5, 2012, Lincoln Journal Star article, “Senators advance request for pay increase” , State Senator Scott Lautenbaugh stated that the last increase to NE State Senators’ salaries had occurred in 1988. A Nebraska State Supreme Court ruling, State ex rel. Spire v. Public Employees Retirement Bd., 226 Neb. 176, 410 N.W.2d 463, 466 (Neb. 1987), stated the current salary at that time as $400 per month ($4,800 per year).
2006 Primary Election, Amendment 1: DEFEATED by voters with a vote of 52% against, 42.1% for. Would have increased State Senator salaries from $12,000 to $21,000, and also would have increased that amount annually, based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) but by no more than 4%.
2007 the Nebraska Legislature passed LR1CA, but that measure never appeared on voters’ ballots for three reasons:
1) The Nebraska Constitution prohibits the repetition of a proposal within three years – since the 2006 salary increase amendment had been defeated in 2006, it could not be repeated again until May 2010.
2) When the Legislature passed LR1cA in 2007, the plan was to wait until May 2010, but Senators decided to wait until fall, due “difficult financial times”3 An Omaha World-Herald article published February 5, 2010, along with the language in the Attorney General’s Opinion of January, 2010, both mention that the Attorney General Opinion was requested by Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood, and that both the rationale and legal necessity behind the request was to prevent the measure from appearing on the May 2010 ballot as would have otherwise been required. All of this information necessarily raises a number of questions about political considerations, both at the time LR1CA was so quickly passed following a nearly identical proposal’s defeat by Nebraska voters, and by the other two Nebraska officials, unfortunately. In addition, due consideration by voters to the level of priority assigned to the issue by Nebraska Legislators (clearly high), and their failure to contemplate future potential economic issues, etc., seems in order.
3) An Attorney General Opinion issued in January, 2010, which advised that the delay in placing the measuring on ballots to violate the Nebraska Constitution, resulted in the Nebraska Secretary of State’s decision not to place the measure before voters that year.
In addition to past attempts to increase their salaries, there were at least three prior attempts by Legislators to provide themselves with pensions.
1971 – 1972: A reference to Nebraska Attorney General Opinion No. 85, in the 1986 Opinion No. 86020, indicates that, at minimum, someone at least inquired about pension benefits for State Senators. Opinion No. 85 advised that a pension for State Senators violates the NE Constitution, Article III, Section 7 provision, that: “Members of the Legislature shall receive no pay or perquisites other than said salary and expenses,”.
1986 LB1129 passed by Nebraska Legislators to provide a pension, despite the Attorney General Opinion noted above, No. 86020, which re-confirmed that pensions are prohibited by the Nebraska Constitution. Note that Senators passed a Legislative Bill and did not attempt to get voters’ approval through a ballot measure.
1987 LB1129 Overturned by the Nebraska Supreme Court: State ex rel. Spire v. Public Employees Retirement Bd., 226 Neb. 176, 410 N.W.2d 463, 466 (Neb. 1987)
1996 General Election, Amendment 3: DEFEATED by voters, 56.7% against, 28.3% for. Would have allowed Nebraska State Senators to participate in “employee benefit programs in which other state officers are allowed to participate”4 It may be worth questioning the rationale for repeating the proposal from 1986, considering the Attorney General opinion and Nebraska State Supreme Court ruling, and the likelihood that the effort would have been overturned in a court challenge.
ADDITIONAL BENEFITS / ACCESS TO BENEFITS?
On the Nebraska Legislature “Frequently Asked Questions About State Senators” page:
Where can I view salary and benefit information for Nebraska state legislators?
The Nebraska Constitution states that senators are to be paid $1,000 per month, or $12,000 annually. Nebraska senators can join the same health plans available to all state employees, but they must pay the full premiums.
WHAT ADVOCATES FOR THE SALARY INCREASE SAY
- Introducing Senator, Scott Lautenbaugh, said Senators’ pay needed to be increased to adjust for inflation
- State does not contribute to health insurance premiums or retirement benefits for Senators
- Nebraska Legislators’ salary is among the lowest in the country
- The pay is low, it is a hardship on the people in office, and precludes many from serving
- Pay is too low considering the number of hours worked and the number of months required per year
“Senators Advance Request For Pay Increase”, Lincoln Journal Star, March, 2012
QUESTIONS TO PONDER IN CONSIDERING PROPONENTS’ ARGUMENTS
- What is the philosophy, originally, in the United States regarding the role of elected officials, particularly lawmakers, in running for office? Is it a “job” or public service?
- Is salary for a Nebraska State Senator meant to be compensation or a form of reimbursement for diminished income from a Senator’s career or job?
- What does the Nebraska Constitution state about the length of Nebraska Legislative sessions?
- Is a salary the only money State Senators receive?
- Are Senators reimbursed for expenses, for instance?
- If so, what are the details in that regard? (structure, average amounts, etc.)
- Is the role of a Nebraska State Senator meant to be a full time job, which is presumed by mention of additional benefits?
- How much does the amount of time spent by State Senators in conducting legislative business in recent years compare to the construction set forth in the Constitution?
- Have changes occurred by way of bills, resolutions, other amendments to the Constitution, to increase the length of time spent by State Senators in performing their duties?
- If there were changes, what were the reasons?
- How many times in recent years has the Unicameral been called into a Special Session to deal with an urgent or pressing issue?
- Were any Special Sessions called regarding issues that should and could have been dealt with during the regular session, but weren’t? Or were all unforeseeable?
- Does the approval of a salary increase send any particular message to recently term-limited or incumbent State Senators? If so, what message does a “FOR” or “AGAINST” vote send?
- Should salary be a significant consideration by anyone running for public office?
- Are comparisons to other state legislators’ salaries relevant in considering a prudent and wise course in Nebraska?
- If relevant, in comparing states with higher salaries for legislators’, what is the length of their legislative session, what is that status of their budget (significant deficits or surpluses)?
- If relevant, what are high salary states taxation policies, also as compared to Nebraska’s?
- If relevant, how healthy, overall is the economy in higher / lower compensation states?
- How much does the average constituent know about their District’s State Senator?
- Have Nebraska’s Legislators been prudent stewards with Nebraskans’ tax dollars heretofore?
- How have Nebraska’s Legislators performed in their primary role of protecting the lives, liberties, and property of Nebraska citizens heretofore?
1. Initiative petition conducted by Nebraska citizens, separate and independently from the State Legislature
2. A vote of three-fifths of the State Legislature on a special type of Legislative Resolution (LRCA) and specified procedure (according to Article XVI, Section 1).
3. Constitutional Convention (which itself is proposed first by the State Legislature and must be approved by voters) (according to Article XVI, Section 2).
Amendments to the Constitution, regardless of the manner in which they were originally proposed, must all be voted on individually by Nebraskans before they become part of the Constitution.
Return to: BASICS on AMENDMENT
- Haar, K.
Voting in the negative, 15:
Present and not voting, 1: Harr, B. Excused and not voting, 2: Conrad Janssen
A constitutional three-fifths majority having voted in the affirmative, the resolution was declared passed for the general election.
Return to: BASICS on AMENDMENT
References & Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Each State Senator gets to prioritize one bill per session, and each Legislative Committee may designate two priority bills. The Legislative Executive Board is a relatively recent invention, from what I’ve learned in doing research.|
|2.||↑||In the March 5, 2012, Lincoln Journal Star article, “Senators advance request for pay increase” , State Senator Scott Lautenbaugh stated that the last increase to NE State Senators’ salaries had occurred in 1988. A Nebraska State Supreme Court ruling, State ex rel. Spire v. Public Employees Retirement Bd., 226 Neb. 176, 410 N.W.2d 463, 466 (Neb. 1987), stated the current salary at that time as $400 per month ($4,800 per year).|
|3.||↑||An Omaha World-Herald article published February 5, 2010, along with the language in the Attorney General’s Opinion of January, 2010, both mention that the Attorney General Opinion was requested by Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood, and that both the rationale and legal necessity behind the request was to prevent the measure from appearing on the May 2010 ballot as would have otherwise been required. All of this information necessarily raises a number of questions about political considerations, both at the time LR1CA was so quickly passed following a nearly identical proposal’s defeat by Nebraska voters, and by the other two Nebraska officials, unfortunately. In addition, due consideration by voters to the level of priority assigned to the issue by Nebraska Legislators (clearly high), and their failure to contemplate future potential economic issues, etc., seems in order.|
|4.||↑||It may be worth questioning the rationale for repeating the proposal from 1986, considering the Attorney General opinion and Nebraska State Supreme Court ruling, and the likelihood that the effort would have been overturned in a court challenge.|