Over the years: Oklahoma legislators’ base salary


OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma has a varied history when it comes to compensating our elected officials.

  •  Compensating our elected officials

OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma has a varied history when it comes to compensating our elected officials.

While recently the Oklahoma Board on Legislative Compensation increased the base salaries for our state legislators by what some to believe an astonishing amount - 35% - it is far from the largest increase in state history. Nor is it the most, when adjusted for inflation. Please note, this article will address the base compensation specifically. Per diem payments, mileage reimbursements and House and Senate Leadership pay have changed over the years, as well. Article V, Section 21 of the Oklahoma Constitution originally established legislative pay at $6 per day for the first 60 days of the session, and $2 per day for every subsequent day. Since it was codified in the Constitution, and Oklahoma’s Constitution can only be changed by a vote of the people, legislative base compensation remained stagnant for the first 40 years of statehood.

In 1920, State Question 112, which was intended to raise the pay to $6 per day for all days in session, was rejected by the people. Proposed increases in 1926 and 1938 were voted down, as well. Not until 1948, with the passage of State Question 329, did a salary increase pass, when the monthly base salary went to $100. In 1960, State Question 389 was struck down, which intended to increase the salary to $200 per month. In 1962 and 1964, salaries of $300 per month and $25 per day for 75 days were rejected, as well. Finally, in 1968, State Question 462 Regarding Conflict of Interest created the Board on Legislative Compensation. The Board currently meets every two years in October and determines whether to increase or decrease legislative salary and is made up of nine members. All decisions of the Board apply to the following session of the legislature.

By 1975, the Board had increased legislative pay to $9,960 per year, equivalent to $47,533.82 in 2019 dollars, as adjusted for inflation. Over the next decade, the Board largely helped keep pace with inflation, with compensation up to $20,000 per year in 1987, or $45,204.05 in 2019 dollars. In 1988, a 60% increase from $20,000 per year to $32,000 per year paid the equivalent of $66,260.39 as adjusted for inflation. When adjusting for 2019 dollars, this is the largest base compensation amount in the history of the Oklahoma Legislature. An increase in 1997 to $38,400 brought the equivalent pay from $52,366.40 back up to $61,430.19. No changes were made over the next two decades, with equivalent pay down to $39,264.32 by 2018. The Board cut legislative pay for 2019 by almost 9%, down to $35,021, before increasing pay to $47,500 per year beginning with the 2021 Legislative Session. While a 35% increase may seem substantial, in historical context it pales in comparison to the 60% increase in 1988. It also leaves legislators still making the equivalent of $20,000 less than those in the 1989 legislative session.