At $65,000 a year, Virgin Islands senators are some of the most well-paid jurisdictional legislators in the nation. Of state representatives, only those in California and New York make more, drawing salaries of $99,000 and $79,500 a year, respectively.
The figures come from a web site devoted to data on state assemblies.
Only nine states pay for full-time representatives: California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The rest are paid as part-time government employees, generally on an annual basis, but in some cases by the day only when the legislative body is in session. The argument is that the states do not need full-time legislators.
Of course, all the state assemblies represent populations far greater than the Virgin Islands' approximately 110,000 people.
For instance, in New Jersey, where 40 senators and 80 members of the house represent more than 7.7 million people, they are expected to work full-time for $35,000 a year. The ratio between state legislator and population is 64,418 to one.
In North Dakota the population figures are less dramatic, a mere 638,800. With 49 senators and 98 house members, that translates to one representative for 4,345.5 people. But the salaries are lower too. Legislators are paid $111 per day. In 1999, they were in session from Jan. 5 to April 17. Figuring generally a five-day week, they were paid about $9,000 last year.
Until the mid-1980s, V.I. senators were earning salaries closer to their counterparts across the country. But then they began to hike their pay, and it went from $25,000 to the current $65,000 with a few earning levels in between. V.I. senators also are paid per diem when they attend committee meetings and sessions.
Except for an occasional gesture by a rogue senator, the Legislature has given little consideration to lowering salaries in the past 15 years and there has not been a public outcry loud enough to force a hearing.
Voters will, however, weigh in soon on whether to cut the amount of money spent on senators' salaries by cutting the number of senators. Reports are also circulating that some candidates for Senate this year will advocate slashing senators' pay levels.
The November election will include a referendum asking voters whether they would like to reduce the number of senators from the current 15. If so, would they prefer 11 or nine? The odd numbers maintain the even split between the St. Croix and the St. Thomas-St. John districts while allowing for one senator-at-large.
"The referendum will be a great gauge of public opinion," said Nicole Bollentini, legislative aide to Sen. Adlah Donastorg who has been pushing for a reduction for several years.
Meanwhile, Congress appears poised to give the territory the authority needed to make the change.
Two weeks ago the House Resources Committee unanimously approved a bill introduced by V.I. Delegate Donna Christensen to allow the Legislature to restructure itself. The bill was expected to be considered on the floor Monday, but action was delayed because a key staffer was out of the office, according to Lo'an Sewer, spokeswoman for Christensen. It will be heard instead next week.