Posted: Aug. 20, 2009; updated: Aug. 24, 2009
STIPENDS ARE FOR SENATORS
By Celia Cohen
Not all legislative paychecks are created equal.
This became apparent when Joe Booth, a Georgetown Republican, cut his own pay by winning a special election earlier this month to move from the House of Representatives to the Senate.
As a representative, Booth had a seat on the Joint Finance Committee. As a senator, he does not. It cost him a stipend that goes to those who toil for many draining hours in the basement of Legislative Hall to draft the state budget.
Never mind. The odds are good that Booth will end up with some sort of supplement to his legislative base pay. Nearly every senator does.
"I'm learning a whole new deal in the Senate," Booth said.
It seems self-evident that lawmakers like Sen. Tony DeLuca, a Democrat who is the Senate president pro tem, and Rep. Bob Gilligan, a Democrat who is the House speaker, might get something extra in their paychecks.
Running the chambers is along the lines of being the Kindergarten Cop before Ritalin was invented, except that preschoolers tend to have better manners.
It is not as much common knowledge that a host of other legislators also have sweeteners coming to them -- the majority and minority leaders, the majority and minority whips, and the members of three joint committees.
All 62 of Delaware's legislators collect the same annual base pay of $41,681. It is 2.5 percent less than what it was, because they took the same cut they applied to the state's workforce to fend off a budget shortfall. They dropped the amount of the stipends, too.
The lawmakers voted for the cut even though it seems to be unconstitutional to shrink legislative salaries. They feared a public outcry otherwise. Better to be unconstitutional than unseated.
The senator who does not pocket something extra is rare, because there are only 21 of them, while there are 41 representatives.
The Senate has to have five people in leadership and contribute six to the Joint Finance Committee, which writes the budget, six to the Bond Bill Committee, which authorizes construction projects financed by bonds, and five to the Sunset Committee, which reviews state agencies to gauge whether to eliminate, or "sunset," them.
For the Senate Republicans, this is the one time being in the minority pays -- literally, pays. Before Booth arrived, there were only five of them. They had so many leadership and committee slots to fill, some of them had to double up.
"I always wanted to be on Bond Bill, but I did not want to be on Bond Bill when I became the leader," said Sen. Gary Simpson, the Republican minority leader.
Double duty does not bring quite the double financial reward. Senators are allowed whatever supplement is higher and half of the lower one.
Not everyone wanted the extra assignments that brought the extra pay.
Sen. George Bunting, a Bethany Beach Democrat, was one of them. He returned to the Senate in January after a kidney transplant, and although he is healthy enough now to run for re-election next year, he was still recuperating then.
Sen. Karen Peterson, a Stanton Democrat, gave it up for cause. She used to be on the Sunset Committee, but she bailed off the year the panel wanted to scrap the Unemployment Appeals Board, only to be overturned by Sen. Jim Vaughn Sr., a Clayton Democrat who died in 2007.
Peterson was particularly incensed after driving through bad winter weather for the committee meetings in Dover. "Any member can veto what you've done. If the committee work doesn't mean anything, why was I risking my life?" she said.
The current committee lineup is subject to change, because of Sen. Thurman Adams' death in June and Booth's arrival to replace him. Adams' assignments have to be distributed among the Democrats, and Booth has to be integrated into the Republican mix.
As the president pro tem, DeLuca is in charge of all committee assignments. It is powerful authority that can be used for good or ill. It is also a headache.
"It's like sitting down with a big jigsaw puzzle," DeLuca said.
Booth wishes he could return to the Joint Finance Committee, but it is doubtful Sen. Cathy Cloutier or Sen. Dori Connor, the two Senate Republicans already on the panel, would be bumped to make room for him.
Simpson is willing to cede his Bond Bill Committee slot to Booth, so it is a possibility.
"I enjoyed JFC, but I'm the low man on the totem pole," Booth said.
In the Senate, though, even the low man can get himself an assignment that could put an extra $3,756 in his paycheck.