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How much are state legislators paid?

Jeremy Alford and Kelly Connelly break down salaries at the Capitol

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LaPolitics News Service

While all Louisiana legislators receive the same base salary, those in leadership positions receive bonuses. Plus, per diem and mileage payments can help even the lowliest lawmaker land a spot in the top rung alongside the best paid from both chambers. But if taxpayers think state lawmakers are getting rich at the public trough, they're in for a surprise.

  These are just a few of the findings uncovered as a result of a series of public records requests LaPolitics filed with the House and Senate in recent weeks.

  All told, the state spent more than $6 million last year compensating, in terms of taxable income, the elected members of the Legislature. That figure represents $4.3 million paid by the House and $1.7 million by the Senate. Because 2012 marked the beginning of a new term, a few outgoing lawmakers were paid for short stints, but the lion's share of the money went to elected members who are still serving in the Legislature.

  Every member receives a salary of $16,800, but they also get $6,000 annually through an "unvouchered expense allowance," which was approved in 1996 as a way for legislators to increase their taxable income without actually increasing their salaries. That gives each member of the Legislature a base income of $22,800.

  The top of the leadership chain in each chamber gets a little more. This bump also puts them atop the pay pyramid, beginning with the budget chairmen. For their budget-writing roles, Senate Finance Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, and House Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, receive an additional salary hike of around $28,000, which boosts their pay considerably. The extra money compensates them for presiding over committee meetings well before and after each annual session and crafting spending plans guaranteed to be as controversial as they are necessary.

  For wielding the really big gavels, Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, get pay boosts of about $14,870, giving each a total base pay of roughly $37,680. The only other members who get additional money because of their positions are Senate President Pro Tem Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, and House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans. Each gets bonus pay amounting to roughly $7,500.

  Other lawmakers get their base compensation of $22,800, although every member of the Legislature also receives per diem pay ($149 for every day the Legislature is in session and for committee meetings between sessions), plus mileage to and from Baton Rouge. Per diem amounted to $12,814 for practically every legislator last year. They also get paid mileage for one round trip home per week during legislative sessions. The farther from Baton Rouge a lawmaker lives, the higher his or her mileage pay will be.

  Per diems and mileage payments are also given for interim committee meetings and legislative business, as well as for "travel," which must be approved by the Senate president or House speaker.

  Taking all those factors into account, the lawmakers in each chamber with the top five taxable incomes from 2012 are as follows:

House

Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin: $81,138

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley: $75,192

Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger III: $51,706

Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton: $51,060

Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport: $51,019

Westwego Republican John Alario receives a total of $63,789 for his position as Senate president.
  • Westwego Republican John Alario receives a total of $63,789 for his position as Senate president.

Senate

Finance Chairman Jack Donahue: $67,074

Senate President John Alario: $63,789

Senate Insurance Chairman Blade Morrish, R-Jennings: $58,975

Senate Natural Resources Chairman Gerald Long, R-Winnfield: $54,655

Sen. John Smith, R-Leesville: $54,544

  At the other end of the spectrum, the lowest paid legislators last year were Sens. Rick Ward, R-Maringouin, $37,175; and Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, $36,660; and Reps. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, $36,448; Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, $36,359; and Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge, $36,227.

  Locally, here's what New Orleans area lawmakers took home in taxable income in 2012:

Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans: $16,800 in salary; $14,006 in per diem; $1,476 in travel; $38,282 in total compensation.

Rep. Bryan Adams, R-Gretna: $16,438 in salary; $14,453 in per diem; $2,259 in travel; $39,022 in total compensation.

Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego: $31,670 in salary; $20,562 in per diem; $5,557 in travel; $63,789 in total compensation.

Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie: $16,800 in salary; $13,709 in per diem; $1,698 in travel; $38,206 in total compensation.

Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers: $16,800 in salary; $14,006 in per diem; $1,845 in travel; $38,651 in total compensation.

Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans: $16,800 in salary; $13,708 in per diem; $1,381 in travel; $37,889 in total compensation.

Rep. Robert Billiot, D-Westwego: $16,800 in salary; $17,880 in per diem; $3,150 in travel; $43,830 in total compensation.

Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans: $16,800 in salary; $15,794 in per diem; $1,990 in travel; $40,584 in total compensation.

Rep. Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans: $16,800 in salary; $16,986 in per diem; $2,880 in travel; $42,666 in total compensation.

Rep. Pat Connick, R-Marrero: $16,800 in salary; $14,602 in per diem; $2,469 in travel; $39,871 in total compensation.

Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell: $16,800 in salary; $14,751 in per diem; $4,104 in travel; $41,655 in total compensation.

Rep. Raymond Garofalo, R-Chalmette: $16,800 in salary; $13,708 in per diem; $1,943 in travel; $38,451 in total compensation.

Rep. Jerry Gisclair, D-Raceland: $16,800 in salary; $14,303 in per diem; $3,114 in travel; $40,218 in total compensation.

Sen. David Heitmeier, D-Algiers: $16,800 in salary; $14,602 in per diem; $2,675 in travel; $40,077 in total compensation.

Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Jefferson: $16,800 in salary; $15,496 in per diem; $2,462 in travel; $40,758 in total compensation.

New Orleans Democrat House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger receives a total of $51,706 from the state for his job in the Legislature.
  • New Orleans Democrat House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger receives a total of $51,706 from the state for his job in the Legislature.

Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans: $24,334 in salary; $17,880 in per diem; $3,491 in travel; $51,706 in total compensation.

Rep. Joseph Lopinto, R-Metairie: $16,800 in salary; $15,049 in per diem; $2,198 in travel; $40,047 in total compensation.

Rep. Christopher Leopold, R-Belle Chasse: $16,438 in salary; $13,261 in per diem; $1,736 in travel; $37,306 in total compensation.

Rep. Nick Lorusso, R-New Orleans: $16,800 in salary; $14,751 in per diem; $2,055 in travel; $39,606 in total compensation.

Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner: $16,800 in salary; $13,708 in per diem; $1,776 in travel; $38,284 in total compensation.

Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans: $16,800 in salary; $16,539 in per diem; $3,177 in travel; $42,516 in total compensation.

Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans: $16,800 in salary; $15,496 in per diem; $2,979 in travel; $41,275 in total compensation.

Sen. Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans: $16,800 in salary; $19,519 in per diem; $6,255 in travel, $48,574 in total compensation.

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans: $16,800 in salary; $14,155 in per diem; $2,755 in travel; $39,710 in total compensation.

Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco: $16,436 in salary; $14,602 in per diem; $1,521 in travel; $38,429 in total compensation.

Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner — N/A; elected in 2013.

Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge: $16,800 in salary; $15,794 in per diem; $1,832 in travel; $40,426 in total compensation.

Rep. Thomas Willmott, R-Kenner: $16,800 in salary; $14,006 in per diem; $1,709 in travel; $38,515 in total compensation.

Rep. Ebony Woodruff, D-Harvey: N/A; elected in 2013.

  While these figures represent only taxable income, the state spent an additional $2.2 million — $1.4 million in the House and more than $820,000 in the Senate — last calendar year reimbursing lawmakers for office expenses and lodging and paying for airfare, rent and event registrations on their behalf.

  With the average taxable income of a Louisiana legislator coming in at roughly $41,755, they're still far below their counterparts in places like Illinois ($67,836), Massachusetts ($60,032) and Ohio ($60,583), according to the latest salary breakdown compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

  By comparison, Texas lawmakers earn a paltry $7,200 in annual salary, along with their $150 per diem — but they get generous retirement benefits that are tied to the salaries of state judges. Veteran Texas lawmakers can draw more than $100,000 a year in pension pay. Louisiana abolished retirement benefits for lawmakers who took office after 1996.

  Arkansas lawmakers are much closer to Louisiana in base pay, making $15,869 annually with a per diem of $147. The figures are even lower in Mississippi: $10,000 per year and a $123 per diem.

  All seem better off than lawmakers in New Mexico. They receive no salary at all, though they do get a $154 per diem. In New Hampshire, a two-year term nets legislative members only $200 — and nothing more.

  The highest annual salaries for lawmakers are where you might expect them: California, $90,526; Pennsylvania, $83,801; New York, $79,500; and Michigan, $71,685.

For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow on Twitter: @LaPoliticsNow.

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