Legislative Staff Salaries and the Rising Cost of Living in Austin

One of the items the Legislature will need to address during the special legislative session is funding the Legislative branch of state government. For state budget wonks, the budget for the Legislative Branch is known as Article 10 (Article X), reflecting its location in the General Appropriations Act as the last of ten sections.

A Texas 2036 analysis of Article X staff salaries suggests that many of these employees already face challenges in keeping up with the rising cost of living in the Austin metro area.

Including the Texas Senate and the Texas House of Representatives, the Legislative branch is composed of seven agencies that support the work of the Legislature. It was poised to receive $410 million per year in the upcoming biennium, which is less than 1% of the $248.6 billion state budget passed by the Legislature, before Gov. Abbott vetoed Article X funding.

The Legislative branch has a workforce of over 2,000 individuals, including temporary and part-time workers. For the full-time employees, the current median annual salary is $55,924, with the lowest median salary of $42,000 at the Texas House of Representatives and the highest median salary of $81,000 at the Legislative Budget Board.

 

The rare event of reviewing the Article X budget in a special legislative session after the gubernatorial veto presents lawmakers with an opportunity to focus on the impact that the cost of living in the Austin metro area has on the Legislature’s workforce, specifically the effects on recruitment and retention of qualified workers. Many legislative agency jobs functionally require staff to work in the Austin area, with little realistic opportunity to work outside of the increasingly pricey region. This issue has been raised by certain legislators each session.

The chart below compares the percent growth of the median annual salary for full-time Article X employees to the most recent U.S. Census projections of the median rent and home price in the Austin area from 2000 to 2019. The growth is adjusted for inflation. The data shows that both median rent and home prices have significantly increased in comparison to the median income of full-time Article X employees this period.

Bar chart depicting percentage growth on Article X median salary, median rent, and median home price in 2019

Source: Comptroller of Public Accounts, U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey
Note: Article X Median Salary only includes full-time regular employees; Data for median rent and home prices reflect the most recent years available.

Amidst this growth in housing and rent prices, a recent analysis from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, featured by the Austin-American Statesman and KUT, identified Austin as the state’s least affordable city. The report found the average monthly full-market cost of a two-bedroom apartment in Austin is $1,434, requiring an annual salary of $57,360 to stay below the commonly recommended threshold of spending no more than 30% of income on housing. By this metric, just over half of Article X staff – including nearly 62% of full-time House staff – cannot afford fair market rent on a two-bedroom apartment in Austin.

Our salary analysis was based on data provided by the state comptroller’s office. It does not include salary supplements that some legislative staff may receive from campaign funds.

As we head towards the state’s bicentennial, we are cognizant that cost-of-living concerns are increasingly impacting many Texans and, in the case of public servants, may impact the state’s ability to attract and retain the highest-quality workforce. Texas 2036 is crunching the data and will release additional data and research in the coming days on the impact that a rising cost of living is having on the Article X workforce.

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