Wednesday, February 6, 2013
As the state looks to trim $1 billion from the general budget and siphoning another $1.4 billion off to increase funding for education, it’s a lousy time for any state elected official to get a pay raise.
It looks bad politically, and it’s insensitive. Many state workers have gone for several years without seeing a pay boost.
The right thing to do is freeze pay for all elected officials.
Unfortunately, doing the right thing has zero to do with setting elected officials’ pay. As a result, a few statewide elected officials are poised to get a raise in pay.
In 1986 voters approved a constitutional amendment taking the power to set salaries away from the Legislature and putting it in the hands of a 16-member citizens’ commission.
The commission sets salaries using consultants’ studies, discussing the duties and responsibilities of each office and other factors. But the folks making the pay decisions don’t answer to either the voters or elected officials.
The salaries for elected officials have gone up over the years regardless of the economic situation the state is facing. The commissioners can do as they please — and they have used that power.
Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials has been a lousy idea from day one.
Last week the commission announced its recommendations for the next two-year budget cycle. Commissioners call for freezing salaries for the next two years for all state legislators, the governor and several other elected officials. But pay hikes are slated for the state superintendent of public instruction, insurance commissioner, public lands commissioner and judges across the state.
The biggest bump in pay would be for judges — from local district courts up to the state Supreme Court. The recommendation is for 2 percent in the first year and then 3 percent in the second year. This would boost the salary of Supreme Court justices to $172,531 a year. The school chief is in line for the same pay raise as judges, which would kick his salary to $127,772. The insurance commissioner and lands commissioner are up for a 2 percent increase.
Without question statewide elected officials and judges have jobs with incredible responsibility that require clear thinking and a lot of knowledge. They might even be underpaid for what they do.
That, however, can be said for many state employees who have seen less — not more — in their take-home pay as their pay stays the same and their cost of health insurance and taxes go up.
It’s simply wrong to have employees’ pay treading water while a few of the bosses take more cash out of the pool. This isn’t the elected officials fault, it’s really the people’s problem as they created this independent commission.