I read John Tsitrian’s Nov. 29 op-ed, “Legislators should earn a pay raise,” and would like to offer a few thoughts.
Tsitrian correctly explained that, unlike other elected officials, legislators have not received a salary increase in 20 years. The proposal he described would increase legislator pay from $6,000 to 20 percent of South Dakota’s median household income, which would currently be $10,200 and would allow for the salary to keep up with inflation in the future.
I personally support this proposal. We need legislative pay to keep up with inflation, so that a wide spectrum of candidates can afford to consider legislative service.
Tsitrian also argued that legislative pay should somehow be performance-based. That’s a very subjective judgment — although Tsitrian frequently refers to his Republican registration, his op-eds and his blog demonstrate his liberal bent on most issues, and I would guess that he views success very differently than I do or than most Republicans do.
I would propose that we judge our Legislature’s performance by fiscal management. During the seven years I have been governor, the Legislature has passed a structurally balanced budget, on time, every year. The Legislature has passed numerous reforms to strengthen our state’s pension plan, which is one of only a handful in the nation that are fully funded, and it has passed financial management reforms that have led to our state’s AAA bond rating. You can read the headlines from almost any other state to see that these accomplishments alone make South Dakota’s state Legislature one of the highest-performing in the nation.
Tsitrian suggested a different metric — the state’s annual growth in gross domestic product. He asserted that GDP growth has been “pathetic” since I took office. I’m sure it was an honest mistake, but Tsitrian failed to include growth that occurred in 2011, the first year I was in office. When one does, South Dakota’s average annual GDP growth has been 4.0 percent, greater than the U.S. average annual growth of 3.7 percent.
So it turns out, either by my criteria or by Tsitrian’s, that the state Legislature’s performance can be considered a success over the past seven years. Next time you see one of your legislators, please thank them for their excellent work.