Since 1988, lawmakers have given their staff longevity pay that amounts to as much as 19.2 percent of their salaries. Those bonuses also start much earlier. At five years of service, staffers start earning the bonus pay, at a 4.8 percent rate that’s better than most state employees will ever see.
Gerry Cohen, who retired in August as special counsel to the legislature and is now a lobbyist, was the top paid employee in the fiscal year that ended June 30, earning a $196,400 salary. The $37,700 in bonus pay brought his compensation to more than $234,000.
Cohen spent 37 years on the legislature’s staff. He is one of 49 legislative employees who earned $10,000 or more in longevity pay in the last fiscal year, legislative records show. The average pay for those employees was $105,500, not including the longevity pay. That average climbs to $123,600 with it.
Providing longevity pay for roughly 300 of the nearly 700 legislative staffers costs far less than giving it to teachers. Lawmakers spent $1.6 million on longevity pay for their employees in the last fiscal year, compared with the $60 million in longevity pay that was rolled into teachers’ base pay. The average longevity pay for full-time legislative staffers was $7,090.
State Sen. Majority Leader Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican, noted that Republicans weren’t in charge when the longevity pay was put in place for staff. He said it might be worth taking a look at, but he otherwise defended it as a tool to keep valued employees.It's all about feathering the right nests.