The Aberdeen crackerbarrel brought all sorts of fun. Both of northeast South Dakota’s parent-child legislator duos—Rep. Lana and Senator Brock Greenfield and Rep. Al and Senator David Novstrup—joined us, meaning referring to legislators by last name confuses everyone. It’s a good thing we’re all on a first-name basis here in South Dakota.
A Vietnam veteran at the back of the Ramkota conference room apparently heard something about legislators considering raising their own pay. The questioner didn’t indicate that he knew specifically about Senate Bill 160, which David is sponsoring to give legislators thousands of dollars more in reimbursement for off-Session “constituent services”. But he did direct his question at “the two career politicians who change jobs when they get to the end of their terms.”
The targeted Novstrups kept their seats and let Brock Greenfield answer first. Brock said he’ll never support a tax increase, because he’s a good “servant of the people and therefore I will not vote to increase my salary or any of the per diem or any other payments that would come in the off-Session.” Brock did not mention that he keeps trying to exempt himself from the sales and use tax that he’s supposed to collect and remit to the state as an amateur sports coach during the off-Session. (Hearing on SB 147 is Monday, 10:00 a.m., Senate Taxation.)
Never one to let an attack go unchallenged, Al Novstrup rose to point out that he’s never been termed out, which is true: since winning his first election in 2002, Al has served three House terms, then three Senate terms, and now another House term. We limit terms at four, so Al switches early, to protect his son from the strongest challenger in the Democratic field (hmmm… if that’s the case, expect Al to jump back to the Senate race this year).
Al is also right that legislators’ salary hasn’t been raised since 1998, when HB 1212 raised pay from $4,267 for 40-day Sessions and $3,733 for 35-day Sessions to a flat $6,000 every year. That was amended down from the original $10K per year proposal. Of course, the 1998 Legislature had the decency to make sure that law didn’t take effect until January 1 following the election, to give voters a chance to decide who deserved that raise and who didn’t.
Al showed some courage and says he’d vote for a pay raise that “would allow most people” to serve. He said New Hampshire’s $100 a year means “the wealthy have been able to serve in New Hampshire and the working class probably can’t. If we want a Legislature that is strictly from the retired and strictly from the wealthy, keep freezing our salaries forever, and you’ll end up with a Legislature that doesn’t represent the people.”
Having collected his thoughts, David Novstrup, the man actually sponsoring the bill in question, rose to explain his motives. He said he wants to make sure the Legislature funds teacher pay before raising legislator pay… which I would think would mean we’d see David’s name on bills to raise teacher pay before we see his name on bills to raise legislator pay. But no—page through his bills, and you see David’s name on more pay for legislators and members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, funding to name a submarine, and stealth vouchers for private schools, but not on any of the bills seeking to give teachers more money. Hmmm… David, you’re saying one thing about priorities to the public, but you’re sponsoring bills that suggest other priorities. (Hmm… what was that I said about Father Al maybe wanting to slide over to the Senate race?)
David guaranteed Senate Bill 160 will fail. But then he tried to enunciate the argument that the basic market principles that are making it hard for low-paying South Dakota to recruit teachers also make it hard for low-paying South Dakota to recruit legislators.
I think some of you might really question how qualified some legislators are in this state and question their judgment. So I think you don’t want the pay so low that people are doing it because they are rich and wealthy, but you don’t want it so high that they’re doing it for the money. And so I think a slight increase is reasonable, but it’s just not going to happen and it will be a long time before it does, because it’s hard for us to make sure that those other priorities are met and have money left over for that because those are our priorities [Senator David Novstrup, response to question about legislator pay, Aberdeen crackerbarrel, 2016.02.20].
Curious: does David think that adding a $4,500 expense reimbursement for rank-and-file legislators and a $9,000 reimbursement for legislative leaders earning $6,000 salaries is mathematically “reasonable”? If so, I’d like to apply his definition of “reasonable” to the pay increases we’re trying to get for teachers: we should raise teacher pay from the current $40,880 average to $71,540 for regular teachers and $102,200 for department chairs and committee leaders. That sounds perfectly reasonable, don’t you think, David?
David then tried to make another point. Unfortunately for David, he made the argument that I make for replacing him and his colleagues with more Democrats:
But at some point you’re going to have a Legislature that’s all from one group which doesn’t help the decisions and the point of view, just all the issues we have in the state. We need to have a diverse group, our legislators, our city council, our county commission. If you have all the same people from the same group, you’re going to have some bad decisions come out of that legislative body [David Novstrup, 2016.02.20].
I am thrilled that David has finally figured out that one-party rule is the route to bad decisions. I look forward to winning David’s vote in November and working for reasonable pay increases for teachers, state employees… and maybe legislators, so we can recruit more qualified public servants.