HJR 60

Joint Rules Committee Study of General Assembly Salaries and Allowances

September 11, 1998, Richmond

Pursuant to HJR 60, a special meeting of the Joint Rules Committee was called to examine the salary and allowances of members of the General Assembly and their legislative assistants and secretaries. Following a general briefing by staff and a representative of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the committee announced the appointment of a citizens advisory committee to make recommendations to the Joint Rules Committee in early December on the appropriate level of legislative pay and allowances. The committee also discussed recent developments in the case of Earley v. Landsidle, a suit brought by the Attorney General to determine the constitutionality of two budget items in the Appropriations Act that authorized increases in legislators' interim per diem payments and office expense allowances during their term.

HJR 60

Determining what constitutes fair compensation for a legislator's time and service is a complex and politically sensitive issue in every state. In states with part-time legislatures, the matter becomes even more complex because of the need to attract competent persons from all vocations and financial means without encouraging the transition to a full-time professional legislature. In Virginia, the current legislators' salaries ($18,000 for Senators and $17,640 for Delegates) have not been raised since 1988, and interim per diem payments have been frozen at their $100 level since 1984. In passing HJR 60, the General Assembly believed that after 10 years the time was right to reevaluate legislative pay in a public forum. The resolution calls for a systematic study approach, directing the Joint Rules Committee to: During its initial meeting, the Joint Rules Committee heard from legislators and staff and became acquainted with the historical context of legislative compensation in Virginia. Delegate Davies, patron of the study resolution, reminded the committee that the most appropriate time to propose changes in legislative compensation would be during the 1999 Regular Session, before the November 1999 election of all the members of the General Assembly. He and Delegate Hull, patron of a related resolution incorporated into HJR 60, stressed the importance of educating the public concerning legislative pay and de-politicizing the process by using a citizen commission to examine future adjustments to legislative pay.

A representative of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) briefed the committee on legislative compensation practices in others states. She told the committee that Virginia's total legislative compensation package compared quite favorably with nine other states that closely matched Virginia's economic and demographic profile. Of these 10 states, she said that Virginia ranked third behind North Carolina and Maryland in its provision of legislative compensation. States that ranked behind Virginia included Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina, and Tennessee. In making comparisons between Virginia and other states, the NCSL representative cautioned the committee to keep in mind the diversity of compensation components among the states. For example, many states pay only a session per diem and do not pay their members an annual salary. The NCSL representative also told the committee that a number of states have tied increases in legislative compensation to economic indicators or salary percentage increases received by state employees or certain state officers.

Staff elaborated on this information by showing what legislators' salaries in Virginia would be in 1998 if those salaries had been previously tied to inflation, salary increases received by state employees, or salary increases received by the Governor (see Table 1).

Table 1
Projected Legislators' Salaries Based on Selected Indices
  Index or Factor                                   1998 Salaries  
  Consumer Price Index                                 $25,416
  State Employees' across-the-board increases           21,929
  State employees' "Meets Expectations" increases       23,432
  State employees' "Exceeds Expectations" increases     25,003
  State employees' "Exceptional Performance" increases  26,154
  Classified state employees' median salaries           26,604
  Governor's salary increases                           26,441

Litigation: Earley v. Landsidle

On June 30, 1998, the Comptroller of Virginia notified the Attorney General that he had doubts respecting the constitutionality, proper construction, and interpretation of the two items in the general appropriations act for the 1998-2000 biennium that increased the interim per diem payments and office expense payments for members of the General Assembly. On July 31, 1998, the Attorney General filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Virginia seeking payment after the next term of the General Assembly commences in January 2000. The Attorney General stated that any increase in payments prior to that time would be unconstitutional and that members should be paid at the rate previously authorized in the last appropriations act. The former rate set per diem payments at $100 for attendance at meetings during the interim and limited the annual office expense allowance to $750 per month for members and $1,000 per month for the leadership.

In addition, the Attorney General asked the Court to join the Clerk of the House and the Clerk of the Senate as party respondents in the proceedings. In support of his request, the Attorney General stated that the Clerks have responsibilities in conjunction with the payments in question and, therefore, have a direct and substantial interest in the issues raised.

Expressing disagreement with the Attorney General's reasoning for joining the Clerks, the Joint Rules Committee voted unanimously to authorize the Speaker's counsel, the Director of the Division of Legislative Services, and a law professor with the University of Virginia School of Law to file a response on behalf of the Clerks to contest the Attorney General's motion to join the Clerks as party respondents. The Joint Rules Committee expressed its opinion that the proper parties to suit were the members of the General Assembly.

On October 15, 1998, a response was filed with the Court, asserting that the Clerks were not necessary nor proper parties to the proceeding and the Court lacked jurisdiction because the Attorney General had failed to fulfill his statutory duty under 8.01-653 to defend the constitutionality of the two budget items. On October 20, the Attorney General refuted these arguments and argued that the Clerks are the proper parties because they perform an administrative function in the determination of legislative compensation, and the outcome of the suit will have an impact on how they perform that function. In addition, the Attorney General contended that individual members of the General Assembly are protected by legislative immunity and may not be joined as parties to the suit. Although there is no deadline for the Court to rule on the motion to join the Clerks, a decision is anticipated soon.

Citizens Advisory Committee

To interject objectivity and citizen input into the study, the Joint Rules Committee announced the creation of a citizens advisory committee on legislative compensation and invited former Governors A. Linwood Holton, Jr., and Gerald L. Baliles to serve as the advisory committee's co-chairs. The Governors will preside over a group consisting of 10 prominent Virginia business and academic leaders. The advisory committee has scheduled two meetings and will focus its deliberations on (i) determining an appropriate level of legislative compensation and (ii) developing a process for adjusting legislative pay in the future.

The advisory committee also plans to send a survey to every member of the General Assembly to determine the actual time and costs involved in conducting legislative business and to provide an opportunity for members to comment on the current compensation plan..

At its final meeting, scheduled for December 2, the advisory committee anticipates making its final recommendations for any present pay adjustments and possibly looking at how recommendations for legislative pay should be made in the future.

The Honorable Thomas W. Moss, Jr.
     Chairman of the House Rules Committee
The Honorable Richard J. Holland
     Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee
Legislative Services contact: Ginny Edwards