Voters will decide on two proposed constitutional amendments

Oct 24, 2012

Nebraska voters will decide November 6 if lawmakers should be paid more and whether to extend their term limits.

Amendment 4 proposes increasing legislators’ yearly pay from $12,000 to $22,500.  Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale says legislators have not had a raise in 24 years. 

The last pay raise came in 1988, when the salary increased from $4,800 to $12,000 per year.  He says Nebraska has a rare system where legislative salaries are set by the state constitution, not an independent third party. 

Gale says the current salary is among the lowest in the nation and the amendment would bring salaries in line with inflation.

He says those who oppose the amendment feel pay shouldn’t be used as an incentive to have professional politicians in government.  Gale says those who are against the amendment like the idea of people stepping forward and volunteering to serve.

"This is the toughest job though.  The legislature is a tough job and I don’t think they should have to worry about how they’re going to maintain themselves if they’re going to serve government.  They may have the knowledge, the experience and the background, to serve but they worry a little bit about how they are going to maintain themselves.  And we’ve had senators resign because they couldn’t.”

Gale says the current salary actually sits below the poverty level and limits the people who have the ability to serve.

Another of the ballot measures Nebraska voters will decide on November 6 would extend term limits for Nebraska lawmakers from 2 four year terms to 3 four year terms. 

The constitutional amendment would change the term limits from 8 years to 12 years.  Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale says the argument for the change is that lawmakers need more than 8 years to learn the ropes and be effective in their jobs.

"There’s just so much institutional knowledge and rules of conduct and complicated budgetary issues that it’s asking too much of our state senators to get up to speed in 2 four year terms.  As a result, they become much more dependent upon lobbyists and professional staff to answer questions and conduct their voting than they should.”

Gale says those who oppose the amendment say the legislature would creep back into the cronyism of the past, and that longer terms would make lawmakers more subject to influence from special interest groups.

He says 15 states have term limits.  Though 8 year terms are fairly common, he says it’s up to voters to decide if 12 year terms make more sense for a one house legislature.