It’s a “meaningful” life

Tucked tightly into the rich, dense story mine that is the Clark County commissioners’ weekly board time meeting was an out-of-place conversation about state legislators’ compensation prompted by Commissioner David Madore.

Here’s the audio:

If you don’t want to listen to that, here is the transcript of the relevant bits:

Madore: “It must really impact people, I mean, you can’t live off that salary. It pulls them away from whatever, other, income they would be making to go up there.”

Commissioner Steve Stuart: “Fifty grand is the median income in this county. You get that right?”

Madore: “Well, I’m talking about the House, what are they, like 40-some-thousand?”

Stuart: “By the time you get your per diem and stuff you get about 50 grand a year.”

Madore: “Kinda hard to live off that for Clark County and be in some kind of a meaningful position where you’re contributing to the people around you.”

For context, this was suddenly brought up while discussing the unlikely possibility of an extra session this year for the state legislature.

First, let’s do some fact checking because these guys are all over the place.

  • State legislators are paid a base salary of $42,106 per year, unless they are in a leadership position.
  • Per diem for legislators is $90 per day. This is an optional take. A regular session of the legislature is 105 days. If per diem is taken in full, that is $9,450.
  • That puts a full take, for a full work session in the legislature, at $51,556.
  • There are also many other reimbursement options for legislators. Those include things like dry cleaning, airfare and cell phones. These are also optional takes.
  • Legislators can also collect per diem and other reimbursements if they attend special sessions.
  • According to the American FactFinder, a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, data from 2007-2011 indicates the median earning for a single worker in Clark County is $32,337.
  • Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the Washington state Employment Security Department, says if you take out all of the seasonal workers from that number, it jumps to about $46,000 or $47,000. The median for men being $51,502 per year, and $40,023 per year for women.
  • Bailey says more than half the individuals in the county make less than $51,556.

Now that we have all that established, let’s reflect.

Madore says folks can’t live on less than $51,556 per year. The fact is they can, and more than half the workers in this county do their best.

But then there is the notion that you can’t “be in some kind of a meaningful position where you’re contributing to the people around you” without making more than a legislative salary.

Yet, this is the same Madore who has sat in board time and decried state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, for supporting prevailing wage. This is the same Madore who said in the ramp up to taking office that he’d like to cast a critical eye to union contracts. This is the same Madore who was disinterested in an amendment setting livable wage requirements to his bold new job creation program cutting development fees.

So surely that same Madore isn’t saying that you can’t live off a legislator salary, which is more than what half of workers in this community make.

Madore: “…you can’t live off that salary.”

I’ve sent Madore an email requesting he clarify his statements, because I honestly don’t know what he’s saying.

I haven’t heard back.

Erik Hidle

Erik Hidle

Erik Hidle covers Clark County government for The Columbian. He can be followed on facebook at, on Twitter at @col_clarkgov or contacted by email at

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