While all Louisiana legislators receive the same base salary, those in leadership positions receive bonuses. Plus, payments for per diems and mileage can help even the lowliest lawmaker land a spot in the top rung alongside the best paid from both chambers.

kleckley_smaller
House Speaker Chuck Kleckley of Lake Charles is the second highest paid member of the state Legislature.

These are just a few of the findings uncovered from a series of public records requests sought by LaPolitics and filled by the House and Senate in recent weeks.

In total, the state spent $6.1 million last calendar year compensating, in terms of taxable income, the elected members of the Legislature, including $4.3 million doled out by the House and $1.7 million by the Senate. Since 2012 marked the beginning of a new term, a few outgoing lawmakers were paid for short stints, but the lion’s share of the money went to elected members who are still serving in the Legislature.

Every member receives a salary of $16,800, but they also get $6,000 annually through an “unvouchered expense allowance,” which was passed in 1996 as a way for legislators to increase their taxable income without actually increasing their salaries. That gives each member of the Legislature a base income of $22,800.   

The top of the leadership chain in each chamber, however, receives a little more. This bump also puts them atop the pay pyramid, beginning with the budget chairmen. For their roles, Finance Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, and Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, both receive an additional salary hike of around $28,000 for meeting well before session begins and long after it ends crafting spending plans that are always guaranteed to be as controversial as they are necessary.

For wielding the big gavels, Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, get much smaller perks, about $14,870 in additional pay. The only other members who see more money through positions are their backups. President Pro Tem Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, and Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, get bonus pay amounting to roughly $7,500 each.

Every other lawmaker is confined to a base compensation of $22,800, although every member of the Legislature also receives per diems and mileage, which goes toward their total taxable income. The per diem rate is, and last year was, $149. During session, lawmakers get a per diem for each day, amounting to $12,814 for practically every legislator last year. They also get paid mileage for one round trip home per week during session. The further away from Baton Rouge a lawmaker lives, the higher their mileage pay will be.  

Per diems and mileage payments are also given out for interim non-session committee meetings and legislative business, as well as for a basic “travel” category, which must be approved by the president or speaker.  

When all of these various factors are combined, the lawmakers in each chamber with the top five taxable incomes from 2012 are as follows.

House:
— Fannin: $81,138
— Kleckley: $75,192
— Leger: $51,706
— Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton: $51,060
— Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport: $51,019

Senate:
— Donahue: $67,074
— Alario: $63,789
— Senate Insurance Chairman Blade Morrish, R-Jennings: $58,975
— Senate Natural Resources Chairman Gerald Long, R-Winnfield: $54,655
— Sen. John Smith, R-Leesville: $54,544

At the other end of the spectrum, the lowest paid legislators last year were Sens. Rick Ward, R-Maringouin, $37,175, and Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, $36,660, and Reps. Kenny Havard, $36,448; Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, $36,359; and Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge, $36,227.

Locally, here’s what Lafayette area lawmakers took home in taxable income in 2012:
— Rep. Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia: $16,800 in salary, $16,390 in per diems, $2,920 in travel, $42,110 in total compensation
— Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette: $16,438 in salary, $14,620 in per diems, $1,153 in travel, $38,064 in total compensation
— Sen. Pat Cortez, R-Lafayette: $16,436 in salary, $14,751 in per diems, $2,020 in travel, $39,077 in total compensation
— Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette: $16,800 in salary, $17,135 in per diems, $43,252 in total compensation
— Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas: $16,800 in salary, $14,900 in per diems, $2,458 in travel, $40,159.64 in total compensation
— Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte: $16,800 in salary, $15,496 in per diems, $3898 in travel, $42,194.95 in total compensation
— Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette: $16,800 in salary, $14,453 in per diems, $1,319 in travel, $38,572 in total compensation
— Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia: $16,438 in salary, $15,943 in per diems, $2,855 in travel, $41,108 in total compensation
— Sen. Fred Mills Jr., R-New Iberia: $16,800 in salary, $16,390 in per diems, $2,277 in travel, $41,467 in total compensation
— Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Lafayette: $16,800 in salary, $17,433 in per diems, $2,258 in travel, $42,491 in total compensation
— Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro: $16,438 in salary, $13,410 in per diems, $1,111 in travel, $36,831 in total compensation
— Sen. Jonathan “J.P.” Perry, R-Kaplan: $16,800 in salary, $13,410 in per diems, $1,738 in travel, $37,948 in total compensation
— Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette: $16,438 in salary, $14,900 in per diems, $1,350 in travel, $38,560 in total compensation
— Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette: $16,965 in salary, $16,986 in per diems, $2,922 in travel, $42,873 in total compensation
— Rep. Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas: $16,800 in salary, $16,390 in per diems, $2,827 in travel, $42,017 in total compensation

While these figures represent only taxable income, the state also spent an additional $2.2 million — $1.4 million in the House and more than $820,000 in the Senate — last calendar year reimbursing lawmakers for office expenses and lodging and paying for airfare, rent and event registrations on their behalf.

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