Salaries of Hungarian parliamentary members

Hungarians with an internet connection must be having a heyday. Since last Thursday the salaries of all members have been available on the homepage of the Hungarian parliament. The link is here: http://tinyurl.com/36lkqd From here it is enough to click on the name and at the end, just before the bio, there is information on how much money the person took home last month. I bet there will be a lot of visitors to the site.

Let’s begin by saying that the base salary of the members is ridiculously low. It is barely more than the average salary in the country: 375,360 Ft or 1,478 euros. And only about half of this would be his or her take-home pay. This is surely not enough. So the current system includes a range of perks that increases remuneration in a non-transparent (and untaxed) way.

For instance, the members receive money for travel expenses. This, of course, depends on the distance between Budapest and the member’s residence. If the person lives in Budapest, he receives 154,560 Ft. (€608) a month. [Let’s put this ridiculous figure into context. Parliament meets about three times a week, so figure that the Budapest member incurs expenses for about 12 round trips a month. This would work out to €51 per single trip, or €102 per round trip. Do they arrive in a stretch limo?] If his place of residence is within 50 kms he will get 187,850 Ft.(€740). Without spelling out all the distances, for every extra 50 kms the money received increases. By the time a person lives more than 250 kms from Budapest he receives 353,280 Ft. (€1,391). So, György Alexa who lives in Budapest will get the extra 154,560 Ft. (€608) in addition to his base salary. Péter Ágh, the youngest member of parliament who is from Szombathely, will receive travel expenses of 320,160 Ft. (€1,260). And how often do you think he commutes a month?

The speaker of the house and her assistants receive higher base salaries. So, Katalin Szili, for example, took home 1,435,200 Ft. (€5,650) and also received 287,040 Ft. (€1,130) because she is from Pécs. (Mind you, her car with its driver comes with her office and, of course, she doesn’t pay for wear and tear on the car or for gasoline.) Heads of caucuses get higher salaries. Extra money comes for being a member of a parliamentary committee; more than 60% of all members are also members of some committee or other. For instance, Mátyás Eörsi, head of the SZDSZ caucus and chairman of the committee on European affairs, received almost one million forints in September (to be precise 949,440 Ft or €3,738) which included the 154,560 Ft, the lowest of travel expenses because he lives in Budapest.

If one doesn’t live in Budapest one can also receive money for living expenses. Receiving such compensation is almost automatic. Eagle-eyed journalists found about a dozen such members–mostly from the Fidesz–who own their own house or apartment in Budapest, yet they took the monthly 110,400 Ft. for living expenses.

Ferenc Gyurcsány, whose hand was surely in making these figures available, would like to triple the base salary and get rid of all the extras that are not even taxable. Viktor Orbán refuses to "increase the salaries." It doesn’t seem to matter what the other side says; he and his party insist that this would involve salary increase. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The money received would be the same but it would be above board and less murky. Orbán went so far as to "forbid" his party’s delegates to accept the salary increase if it is passed by the House. I am not sure how he is planning to do this, but at the moment he insists. The question is whether the Hungarian public would realize that it would be better to give the same salary that their representatives now receive by less transparent, and sometimes devious, means. Surely, it requires more to argue against the MSZP position than just simply say, no, no, no. Not a penny more.