Why Democrats get a fraction of the staff that GOP leaders employ at NC legislature

·3 min read

While Democrats hold 42% of House seats and 44% of Senate seats, the minority party gets far fewer staffers than leadership in the Republican majority.

Each of the 170 state legislators gets one legislative assistant to handle the work of their office, but top House and Senate leaders get to determine how dozens of other partisan positions are allocated among lawmakers.

According to an analysis of staffing information by the Insider, Speaker Tim Moore and top House Republicans have a total of 45 staff members in addition to their legislative assistants. Democrats have just five.

In the other chamber, Senate leader Phil Berger and key committee chairs have 22 staffers outside of legislative assistants, while Democrats have three.

“We’re not adequately providing the support we need to the Democratic senators,” said Fred Aikens, chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake. He says Democrats would like to have the benefit of staff attorneys (Republicans have two) and policy advisers who can specialize in key areas like education and health.

Aikens estimates that Republicans’ partisan staff salaries add up to $1.8 million, while Senate Democrats have a budget of around $450,000. Recently, “we asked for an additional $400,000 to get some salary equity, but they don’t seem to be too fond of giving us enough,” he said.

Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Berger, said Democrats “set the precedent for 140 years” on staffing levels between the majority and minority parties when they were in control. He says Democrats asked for and received additional personnel funds in 2019 and again this year, but much of that money went toward raises for current staffers rather than creating new positions.

This year, “we again provided them with additional funding and authorized new positions. The minority caucus chose to post a job opening for one position, which to our knowledge has not been filled, and distribute the additional funding to their existing staff.”

Aikens said the funding for two positions would have amounted to workers with $30,000 salaries.

“I need folks who can do some policy work, track this budget,” which would require a higher salary, he said.

Difference in staff budgets

Ryan argues that the majority party simply has more work to do, from preparing the budget to scheduling bills to making hundreds of appointments to boards and commissions. “The nature of being in the majority requires additional responsibilities compared to the minority, thus the need for additional staff,” he said.

In the House, Democrats have similar concerns.

“When performing our due diligence on a bill, 20 minds are better than two when parsing dense information, but we recognize there have been times the Democratic leader has had no staff,” said Democratic Leader Robert Reives, D-Chatham, who has three staffers.

Reives’ communications director, Sara Angella, puts it more bluntly. “The difference in our staff budgets is comparative to boxing above your class with a corset on and ankle weights,” she said. “You aren’t going to win, and since no one pulls punches in politics, it’s going to hurt, a lot.”

Not an even split

House Speaker Tim Moore said he hasn’t heard any complaints about the Democrats’ staffing levels, and that he’s approved requests for additional staff funding in the past.

Democrats are able to hire their own staff for the new oversight team on the Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations, which is replacing the nonpartisan Program Evaluation Division.

But it’s not an even split: In each chamber, Republicans will hire six or seven people for the jobs, while Democrats will get two.

It doesn’t seem to be a fair balance to me,” Aikens said. “We’re hesitant to make that staff partisan.”

He said the new staffers will likely be limited to the topic being pursued by Gov Ops leaders, which is currently a probe into the finances of the N.C. High School Athletic Association.

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