New Hampshire lawmakers seek to raise their own pay

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-07-2023 4:43 PM

CLAREMONT — Two state representatives from the Upper Valley are hoping this term to increase New Hampshire’s pay for lawmakers, which ranks as the lowest in the country.

Since 1889, New Hampshire has paid its 400 state representatives and 24 state senators an annual stipend of $100 per year, or $175 per year for appointed officers. Legislators receive mileage reimbursement but no other expense allowance.

New Hampshire’s state legislator pay is the lowest in the country and has gone the longest of any state without an increase, according to the National Conference of State Legislators, a nonpartisan resource group for state lawmakers. The second-lowest annual salary, Texas at $7,200 per year, was last adjusted in 1976.

New Hampshire also has the largest state Legislature in the U.S.; the second-largest is Pennsylvania’s, with 253 seats.

Compensation systems vary between states. For example, New Mexico legislators, in lieu of a fixed salary, receive a daily stipend of around $165 while in session. But even the lowest compensation in other states is exponentially higher than New Hampshire’s.

“One hundred dollars per year is a sad joke,” said state Rep. Walt Stapleton, R-Claremont, who was first elected to the House in 2018. “Our time and experience is certainly worth more than that.”

On Wednesday, the start of the new state legislative session, Stapleton introduced a resolution to amend the state constitution, seeking to increase the state’s legislator pay to $5,000 per term, or $2,500 per year, and the pay for officers to $6,250 per term, or $3,125 per year.

This proposed amendment also makes these salaries subject to periodic cost-of-living adjustments, which the New Hampshire constitution does not address.

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State Rep. Laurel Stavis, D-Lebanon, is a co-sponsor of the bill. Stavis didn’t respond to a request for comment on Friday.

For Stapleton, this amendment is primarily about showing appreciation to the 424 state lawmakers for their time and dedication.

“(This increase) is still paltry money for the time we spend in sessions and our committees, not to mention our time spent (outside the assembly) working on our county delegations, representing our community and listening and talking to our constituents,” Stapleton said. “Some of us are also representing many towns.”

Many state representatives — especially in rural areas such as Sullivan County — saw dramatic changes to their House districts in 2022 due to large population shifts reported by the 2020 Census. Stapleton, now in his third term, previously held a district representing a portion of Claremont, but his district expanded this term to include all of Claremont as well as Croydon.

Based on historical inflation calculations, a $200 salary per two-year term in 1889 would equate today to $6,438, Stapleton said. However, Stapleton whittled down the amount in his amendment in an effort to garner more legislative and public support.

To pass a legislator-proposed constitutional amendment, the bill must first pass the New Hampshire House and Senate with a three-fifths majority. Then the amendment is placed on the ballot in the next statewide election. At least two-thirds, or 67%, of New Hampshire voters must support the amendment to update the state constitution.

The amendment, if passed, would cost just over $1 million per year to pay the 424 legislators. Stapleton said this would be paid through the state’s general budget fund.

The amendment has been sent to the House Legislative Administrative Committee for review.

There have been numerous efforts by New Hampshire legislators over the years to increase the pay — Stapleton said there have been “three or four” bills introduced during his first two terms — but the bills rarely gather much traction.

“Nobody wants to change the constitution,” Stapleton said. “That has been the hindrance. But this is such a flagrant disrespect for the value and time that we give. This really needs to change.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, the average base salary in the 41 states that pay their legislators — excluding per-diem or expense payments — was $39,216 in 2021.

The highest-paying states, which have full-time legislators, are California, $114,000 per year; New York, $110,000 per year; and Pennsylvania, $90,000 per year.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at 603-727-3216 or at padrian@vnews.com.

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