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NH Politics

Still no raise: N.H. lawmakers keep their pay frozen at ‘paltry’ rate

State senators and representatives in New Hampshire have earned just $100 a year for the past 134 years

The New Hampshire state flag is pictured with the State House dome in Concord.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

CONCORD, N.H. — The nation’s lowest-paid state lawmakers have yet again rejected a proposal to increase their compensation.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 239-145 on Thursday to kill a constitutional amendment that had sought to increase legislator pay for the first time in 134 years. The majority of members concluded that their static pay rate is appropriate given their role as public servants.

“This is pretty simple,” Representative Stephen Pearson, a Republican from Derry, told his colleagues moments before the vote. The question at hand, he said, is whether the state will continue to have an all-volunteer legislature.


“We all volunteered to be here today because we all decided to run for office,” he added.

To take effect, the constitutional amendment would have needed at least 60 percent approval in both the House and Senate, then a two-thirds majority vote by the public in 2024.

When the current salary for state senators and representatives was set in 1889 at $200 per two-year term, the radio hadn’t even been invented yet. Since then, as other states have adjusted their pay rates to account for inflation, New Hampshire has left its lawmakers with what Representative Walt Stapleton, a Republican from Claremont, called a “paltry” sum that limits who can feasibly serve.

The state reimburses lawmakers for their mileage, but transportation isn’t the only type of incidental cost lawmakers incur while serving in the State House. There are often expenses for meals, lodging, postage, and more, Stapleton said. While wealthy or retired people may have no problem covering those costs, Granite Staters who need to earn a wage and support their families have a harder time serving in the legislature, despite their interest and qualifications, he said.

Stapleton, the prime sponsor of the bipartisan proposal, told a committee earlier this year that the constitutional amendment would bring “some sense of equity and fairness” to New Hampshire’s lawmaker compensation.


Under the proposal, lawmaker pay would have jumped from $200 per two-year term to $5,000 per term; pay for presiding officers would have gone from $250 to $6,250; and compensation for special sessions would rise from $3 per day to $75 per day. The proposal also called for periodic cost of living adjustments.

Those proposed pay increases would still have left lawmakers earning about 23 percent less than they would be paid by simply adjusting for 134 years of inflation, Stapleton noted.

“It doesn’t cover the complete need, but it’s a start,” he told the committee, “and perhaps it may be reasonable enough for voters to say, ‘Yeah, that is fair.’”

Representative Eric Gallager, a Democrat from Concord who cosponsored the proposed amendment, said Thursday in a series of tweets that having a volunteer legislature shouldn’t be a source of pride. The current pay rate directly impacts the composition of New Hampshire’s lawmaking bodies, he said.

“For the members who aren’t crazy like I am, most of them are either old and retired, independently rich, relying on passive forms of income such as landlording, or have a job with flexibility in scheduling,” he wrote. “This leads to a wildly unrepresentative legislature.”

Representative Stephanie Payeur, a Democrat from Henniker, spoke in support of the proposal, arguing that lawmakers miss out on time at their regular jobs to fulfill their legislative commitments.


“Just as elected officials in our towns and cities receive reasonable stipends for their roles on the select boards, city councils, school boards, et cetera, it is appropriate to adjust the stipend to a modern-day value to reflect the time commitment and expenses incurred while doing the job of a legislator,” Payeur said.

There have been dozens of unsuccessful attempts in the past couple of decades to give New Hampshire lawmakers a raise, with defenders of the fixed compensation structure often arguing that it reflects the New Hampshire General Court’s status as a part-time “citizen legislature.”

Since there are 400 state representatives and 24 senators in New Hampshire, the total cost of the proposed pay raises would have added roughly $2.3 million per biennium to the state’s payroll costs. Stapleton said that’s “not a lot of money” in the context of the state budget and compared to what other states pay their lawmakers.

New Hampshire ranks dead last in lawmaker compensation among states tracked by the National Conference of State Legislatures. (Technically, the salary is lower in New Mexico, where lawmakers earn $0 in base pay, but their per diem rate as of March is $202, which means lawmakers in New Mexico are earning more for each session day this month than their New Hampshire counterparts earn in an entire two-year term.)

Representative Janet Wall, a Democrat from Madbury, said the New Hampshire Constitution is “a sacred document” that shouldn’t be amended unless there is a clear need. If the state is going to change lawmaker compensation, then it needs to start with a formal review of all the factors involved, including the size of the legislature, she said.


“If we end up getting paid more … it’s going to change the character of the legislature,” she added during a committee meeting this month. “We won’t be volunteers anymore.”

Pearson said the proposed $5,000 in base pay would put lawmakers in an awkward in-between: their higher legislative salary would qualify as neither a volunteer role nor a full-time job. What’s more, the raise “would not increase the quality or quantity of the candidates serving in our legislature,” Pearson wrote in a committee report.

Serving in New Hampshire’s legislature is considered a part-time role, as is the case in most New England states, including Vermont, Maine, and Rhode Island, where the pay is much higher:

  • In Vermont, lawmakers earned $742.92 per week during session in 2022, plus mileage and a per diem for lodging and meals, according to NCSL’s compensation data.
  • In Maine, lawmakers earned $15,417 for the first regular session and $10,999 for the second regular session, plus mileage, a per diem for lodging and meals, and a “constituent service” allowance of at least $1,500 per year.
  • In Rhode Island, lawmakers earned $16,835 annually, plus mileage but no per diem.

In other states, being a state lawmaker is closer to a full-time job. That’s the case in Massachusetts, which paid lawmakers $70,537 last year, plus an office expense stipend of at least $17,043 that can be used for travel expenses, according to NCSL’s data.

In New York and California, where being a state lawmaker is a true full-time role that typically involves a professional staff, the job comes with a six-figure salary.

Steven Porter can be reached at Follow him @reporterporter.