I have heard from several people who are outraged that Vermont state representatives voted to give ourselves a pay raise during the pandemic. I would share this outrage if it happened to be true. But it isn’t. No state representative will be getting a raise next year. Period. The vote we took does not guarantee any representative a raise in the future. Full stop.
I find it deeply disappointing that this vote has been twisted beyond recognition for political purposes. But it is an election year, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.
What the vote in question (on H.961, which covered a variety of actions) did do was tie future pay raises for the Legislature to future pay raises for other “constitutional officers.” In a nutshell, this means instead of separately asking “Does the governor deserve a raise this year?” and “Does the Legislature deserve a raise this year?” in the future, these questions will be tied together. If the governor receives a pay raise the Legislature will receive a proportionally equal raise — keeping in mind the governor is a full-time state official and we are a part-time legislature (and should remain one).
One is certainly entitled to the opinion that neither the governor or Legislature should be paid more (and we won’t be next year), but this vote could be viewed as the start of a much larger conversation we need to have about our state Legislature.
I often hear people say the Legislature does not truly represent average Vermonters. And I ask, how can it when the vast majority of Vermonters cannot afford to serve? At 48 years of age, I am a young man in the State House. The system of compensation we currently use all but ensures the majority of representatives and senators are retirees or individuals with financial means well above the Vermont average.
I am fortunate that my job managing a bookstore gives me the necessary flexibility to serve as a state representative. I am even more fortunate that my smart, talented wife brings home our primary household income (while serving as an elected local official, herself). But I am one year away from having two college-age children and as we look at the financial challenges this brings, it is hard to shake the feeling that the financial hit I take for being a good state representative makes me a bad father.
Our Legislature will never be fully reflective of all Vermonters until we address the financial challenges that keep so many Vermonters in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, from running for office. The vote on H.961 was a baby step in addressing this. We certainly can, and should, have a public conversation about whether having a more balanced legislature would be worth the addition cost, but I remain disappointed that this initial action — which does not guarantee representatives a single additional penny and which was publicly debated before the vote — was immediately and dishonestly distorted for political purposes. The people of Vermont deserve better.
Rep. William Notte lives in Rutland City.