Facing a tight fiscal situation, Hawaii legislators took a 5 percent pay cut beginning in 2009.

After some deliberation — and grumbling — the cuts were extended during the 2011 session.

But, barring another extension in the 2013 session, those cuts expire next July 1. And, come Jan. 1, 2014, lawmakers will receive a scheduled pay increase.

That means 24 Hawaii senators and 50 representatives will each see their annual pay grow $11,580 to $57,852. The Senate president and House speaker will enjoy an increase of $11,955 to $65,352.

Put another way, just over a year from now Hawaii will pay its 76 legislators about $880,000 more than it does now. That’s a 25 percent hike.

Salary Commission Sets Rates

Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 that created the Salary Commission Act.

The commission reviews and makes recommendations on salaries for members of the Legislature, justices and judges, the governor and lieutenant governor and the directors and deputy directors of the executive branch.

In 2007, the commission issued a report that recommended salary increases each year through 2014. A top rationale was that it had been years since salaries had substantially gone up.

The recommendations were approved by the Legislature and Gov. Linda Lingle in 2009.

By then, however, the globe was in recession and Hawaii was not untouched. Hence the 5 percent cut that came through legislation. In 2011, the Legislature rather reluctantly agreed to extending the cuts.

What Other States Pay

Though the Hawaii Legislature is only formally “in session” 60 days a year, sessions actually run nearly four months and involve long hours. Legislative work also does not stop when session ends.

And, as compared to most states, Hawaii has a very high cost of living.

But how do Hawaii legislative salaries compare with other states?

The National Conference of State Legislatures breaks down the differences between part-time and full-time legislatures into red, white and blue legislatures:

• Red legislatures require the most time of legislators, “usually 80 percent or more of a full-time job. They have large staffs. In most Red states, legislators are paid enough to make a living without requiring outside income. These legislatures are more similar to Congress than are the other state legislatures. Most of the nation’s largest population states fall in this category.”

California and New York have red legislatures. Average compensation was $68,599 in 2008 and was based on salary, per diem “and any other unvouchered expense payments.”

• White legislatures “are hybrids. Legislatures in these states typically say that they spend more than two-thirds of a full time job being legislators. Although their income from legislative work is greater than that in the Blue states, it’s usually not enough to allow them to make a living without having other sources of income. Legislatures in the White category have intermediate sized staff. States in the middle of the population range tend to have White legislatures.”

Hawaii is in this group, as are Alaska, Oregon, Washington and 19 other state. Average compensation is $35,326.

• In blue legislatures, “on average lawmakers spend the equivalent of half of a full-time job doing legislative work. The compensation they receive for this work is quite low and requires them to have other sources of income in order to make a living. The blue states have relatively small staffs. They are often called traditional or citizen legislatures and they are most often found in the smallest population, more rural states.”

Georgia, New Mexico and Utah are examples. Average compensation is $15,984.

NCSL’s most recent salary figures are from February 2009, when the average salary for Hawaii legislators was $48,708.

Hawaii lawmakers also received $150 a day per diem for members living outside Oahu during session; $120 a day for members living outside Oahu during interim while conducting legislative business; and $10 a day for members living on Oahu during the interim while conducting official legislative business.

Precise comparisons are difficult, because session lengths and per diem rates vary. But, of the 23 “white” legislatures, Hawaii’s salaries seem to be on the high side.

Position Current Salary July 1, 2013 Jan. 1, 2014 % Increase
Senator $46,272 $55,896 $57,852 25
Senate President $53,397 $63,396 $65,352 22
Representative $46,272 $55,896 $57,852 25
House Speaker $53,397 $63,396 $65,352 22

Source: Senate Chief Clerk’s Office, House Chief Clerk’s Office.

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