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Resolution Ties Lawmaker Compensation To Median Household Income

Lee Strubinger


The South Dakota Speaker of the House wants voters to decide whether legislators should get a pay increase.

He wants to tie legislator pay to the median household income in the state, rather than have lawmakers set their own pay. One critic of the measure says legislators should decide what would inevitably be a pay increase, not voters.

House Joint Resolution 1001 removes the authority of the legislature to set their own pay. That pay is currently around $6,000 and hasn’t increased since 1998. Adjusted for inflation from that time, the $6,000 comes close to about $9,000.

The median household income in South Dakota has hovered around $50,000 since 2006. If approved by both the legislature and the voters, lawmaker salary would increase to roughly $10,200.

Speaker of the House Mark Michelson is sponsoring the bill.

“We have a very good group of legislators,” Mickelson says. “They have a very common set of backgrounds. They’re primarily business owners and self-employed individuals. If we want to widen out some of the individuals who can make the sacrifices to come serve and take two and a half, three months off of work, we probably need to look at replacing that compensation.”

Mickelson says if approved, legislators would be asking their bosses, the voters, if they agree.

If passed, that would mean an addition $440,000. Mickelson says he thinks the legislature is worth that.

But one lawmaker says legislators should make the decision to increase their pay, not the voters.

Representative David Lust says he agrees legislators need an increase in pay.

“Our salary has been raised, historically, by legislators in the past," Lust says. "I realize it may be a little different of a political environment now. It’s just with any vote, if you can’t justify your vote then it becomes a tough vote. This is clearly justifiable, given how little we are compensated for what we do.”

Lust is filling the seat of the late-Representative Dan Dryden, who died prior to the last election. Lust has indicated he doesn’t plan on running for re-election.

If passed, the change in legislator compensation would take effect in July of 2019, meaning no current legislator would be impacted by the decision unless re-elected.