Cheap at twice the price

Love 'em or hate 'em, your Oregon state senator and representative are a bargain

Ask a random person on the street how much money state elected officials make and they're likely to guess high. There is a perception among the general public that elected officials in general are very well compensated. In fact, they are not at all well-paid.

Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann's story in Monday's Mail Tribune explains that state senators and representatives often find it a struggle to make ends meet on the pay they receive.

State legislators in Oregon earn just under $22,000 a year. In addition, they receive $123 a day when the Legislature is in session — about 30 days in even-numbered years and about 180 days in odd-numbered years.

That's not a great deal of money considering many must travel to and from Salem and pay for meals and housing while they are there.

Oregon's government is based on the idea of "citizen legislators" who have other jobs when they aren't doing the public's business. In theory, that's a great concept. Politicians who have to hold down a regular job have a better understanding of the realities their constituents face.

In practice, not everyone can afford to serve. That explains why more than half of Oregon's 90 lawmakers are retired, own their own business or have no other job.

Legislators are not the only elected officials getting by on less than you might think. Gov. John Kitzhaber — the state's chief executive officer — makes $93,600 a year.

Secretary of State Kate Brown and Treasurer Ted Wheeler earn $72,000 a year.

In comparison, Medford's city manager makes $145,000.

We're not calling for big raises for elected officials, although a strong case could be made for that. State legislators in most states are paid very modestly.

We also don't notice legislative seats sitting empty, although it's not unusual to see incumbents running unoppposed.

But the fact is that legislators do what they do because they want to serve the public and their state. The work is not easy, and the hours are long.

There are less tangible compensations as well, especially for those who rise to positions of power. But no one in the Oregon Legislature is there for the money.

Keep that in mind when you're tempted to complain about politicians getting rich off the hard-working taxpayer.

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