Texas Legislature Has Unique Opportunity to Address Staff Pay

Due to the current impasse at the State Capitol regarding Article X funding, more than 2,000 employees await an unprecedented and uncertain future.

With the dialogue about Texas legislative staff pay having been raised to an urgent and critical priority for our state leaders, Texas leaders have the opportunity to move a bipartisan discussion forward about the rising cost of living for these public servants and ensure the state is able to recruit and retain high-quality employees for years to come.

Using several metrics to identify a living wage, we estimate the legislature would need to appropriate between $28 million – $51 million in addition to the proposed $410 million in Senate Bill 10/House Bill 1 to ensure all staffers can afford to live in the Capitol area. That sum would be less than 0.07% of the state’s overall general spending.

$28.2 million would allow all full-time Article X staffers to make a sufficient salary based on the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s recommended threshold.

A recent analysis from the National Low Income Housing Coalition 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, about half of Article X staff – including 62% of full-time House staff – cannot afford fair market rent on a two-bedroom apartment in Austin without a second income.

Agency Percent of Staff Below $57,360 Threshold Annual Appropriation Needed to Assist Staff
House of Representatives 62.3% $8,374,833.00
Legislative Budget Board 20.0% $128,224.56
Legislative Reference Library 66.7% $235,949.52
Senate 52.6% $3,681,534.96
State Auditor’s Office 19.5% $147,257.16
Sunset Commission 32.1% $75,840.12
Texas Legislative Council 35.9% $1,452,023.16
Article X Total 46.8% $14,095,662.48

$51.3 million would allow all full-time Article X staffers to make a sufficient salary based on the median salary in the Austin metro area.

Using the Austin metro area median income for a single person of $69,250 identified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 62% of Article X staff – including nearly three-quarters of full-time Senate staff – make below the median income for a single person.

Agency Percent of  Staff Below $69,250 Threshold Annual Appropriation Needed to Assist Staff
House of Representatives 75.7% $13,612,073.88
Legislative Budget Board 34.8% $494,074.48
Legislative Reference Library 90.5% $432,192.88
Senate 64.1% $6,704,208.36
State Auditor’s Office 36.2% $786,198.04
Sunset Commission 57.1% $225,200.20
Texas Legislative Council 54.8% $3,408,221.96
Article X Total 61.7% $25,662,169.80

Considering the recently released revenue estimate for the 87th Legislature, First Called Session, these additional appropriations for sufficient staff salaries are 0.4% to 0.7% of the projected ending General Revenue-Related balance for the 2022-23 biennium after subtracting the amount needed to maintain Article X funding ($410 million).

It has been said before that amidst every crisis, lies an opportunity to change. The recent unprecedented focus on Article X funding creates a time for reflection given the data that shows that legislative staff salaries are clearly out of sync with Austin’s cost of living.

Hope Osborn and Luis Acuña are Policy Analysts at Texas 2036.

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