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A few days ago, Representative Phil Thompson gave his retirement speech on the floor of the Iowa House. Representative Thompson is 33 years old. He is Chair of Public Safety in the House and is leaving because he cannot afford to continue serving as a representative, with he and his wife expecting their first child soon. In this edition of Freedom Watch, we will discuss why this matters and why we must take action to correct it.

Iowa is not Washington DC. The annual legislative salary in Iowa was last increased in 2007 to $25,000. This was 17 years ago. Accounting for inflation, this amount has lost $13,000 of its value. Put another way, to have the same buying power today, the salary would need to be $38,000.

Legislators also receive per diem to cover the cost of lodging, food and transportation during the four months we are in Des Moines each year. Additionally, we receive $300 per month to help cover the cost of constituent services, which would include things like transportation costs to the many constituent meetings and events we must travel to, and postage for letters in response to constituents. This $300 does not always cover these expenses, but it helps.

In Iowa, we are called a part-time legislature. The reality on the ground for legislators is that while we are in session for about 4 months each year, we also must spend a great deal of time going to meetings, talking to constituents, answering emails, giving speeches, attending forums and listening to the concerns of the people we represent. For Committee Chairs, this is even more intense.

It takes a great deal of time to do this job right, and if a legislator owns their own business or is retired, it is doable. However, if the legislator is young and not wealthy, they must have an additional job to pay the bills. This means they must have an employer willing to allow them to be gone for four months at a time, in addition to the other mandatory meetings they must attend.

This is where the problem exists in 2024. Having not had a pay increase in 17 years means that it is becoming nearly impossible for a young person not of substantial means to run for the Legislature, because finding full time employment that will accommodate legislative responsibilities is nearly impossible, and even finding a part-time job that will accommodate legislative responsibilities while allowing for a future career is difficult and often still does not pay the bills. Hence, we are losing the Phil Thompsons of Iowa, and this is a monumental loss.

The choice we are faced with is this: if we do not raise legislative salaries, we are creating a situation in which the only people that will be able to serve are the wealthy, business owners or the retired, and this is not representative of the people of Iowa. We need younger people, and we need those of moderate means to serve in the halls of government. The compensation must respect the taxpayers, but it also must respect those who are serving and give greater opportunity to more people to serve.

No one in elected office wants to be faced with taking a vote to raise salaries because the narrative is often very negative, but the truth is that failure to do so in this case will dramatically change who represents the citizens of Iowa in their state government; in fact, as we can see from Representative Thompson’s example, it is already happening.

Legislation has been introduced, and I will support it, to raise legislative salaries $10,000 a year to $35,000, not for currently elected officials, but starting with the next general assembly after the election in November. This may sound like a lot but given that there has not been a raise in 17 years, this amount still does not raise the salary to what it was in 2007 after accounting for inflation. It will, however, make it more feasible for the Phil Thompsons to serve the people of Iowa.

We are also advancing legislation to increase legislative staff pay, as we are losing resolute and professional staff to other jobs that pay more.

I absolutely believe, as hard as it is to vote for pay raises for elected officials, that this is essential if we are to have proper representation for the people of Iowa. Representative Phil Thompson is one of the best legislators I have been honored to serve with, and there are likely many more Phil Thompsons waiting to serve. They must be compensated in a way that will allow that service to the people of Iowa. This is essential to help ensure the make-up of our Legislature reflects all of the citizens of Iowa.

Author: Steven Holt



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