By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON – The Mississippi Legislature won’t be shrinking anytime soon, but lawmakers might collect smaller paychecks for a single year.
Senators passed a bill Wednesday that would trim lawmakers’ salaries by 10 percent for 2011 only – a move designed to show solidarity with other government workers who are worried about their job security amid shrinking state revenues.
“This is the right thing for us to do,” said Republican Sen. Giles Ward of Louisville, the bill’s sponsor.
The vote came shortly after senators rejected a separate bill that would have permanently reduced the number of lawmakers starting in January 2012. It proposed cutting the Senate from 52 members to 47 and the House from 122 members to 110.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Walter Michel of Jackson, estimated that shrinking the Legislature would save Mississippi about $700,000 a year in an overall state budget that tops $5.5 billion.
Skeptics said there’s no guarantee the state would save money because the legislative staff might grow if there are fewer elected members. Opponents also said rural and black representation could be diminished, and that might create problems with the U.S. Justice Department, which must approve any Mississippi election changes to ensure fairness to racial minorities.
Democratic Sen. Sampson Jackson of DeKalb jokingly asked Michel if there would be an easy way to eliminate five Senate seats: “Would y’all volunteer to resign y’all’s district – you and four others?”
Michel said the seats would be eliminated during redistricting after this year’s Census.
Senators voted to send the shrink-the-Legislature bill back to a committee. That killed the bill without requiring members to vote for or against the substance of it.
The pay cut passed 39-2. Some senators initially voted against it, then changed their votes to “present,” before the final tally was announced. A “present” vote is neither for nor against.
The pay bill goes to the House for more work.
It would reduce lawmakers’ regular-session salary by 10 percent, from $10,000 to $9,000, for 2011 – a state election year. It would reduce special session pay next year from $75 a day to $67.50.
The mileage reimbursement and other expenses – the biggest chunk of legislators’ annual compensation – wouldn’t change. Some legislators are paid more than $40,000 a year for the part-time job, counting salary and other expenses.
The bill says salaries for the lieutenant governor and House speaker would drop from $60,000 to $54,000 for 2011. Pay for the second-ranking leaders, the Senate president pro tempore and the House pro tempore, would drop from $15,000 to $13,500. Pay for all lawmakers and their leaders would go back up to current levels in January 2012.