Northwest News

Salary board approves raises for state officials

A salary-setting board signed off Wednesday on raises for state officials, including a two-year increase of just more than 11 percent for state lawmakers.

The raises will take effect in two steps, one this September and one a year later, unless someone collects the signatures of 123,186 voters to put a referendum on the ballot.

The Legislature would receive its first raises since 2008 to bring the salaries of rank-and-file lawmakers to $46,839. Four leaders make more.

“We thought there was some catching up to do,” board member Melissa Albert said after the 10-5 vote. “We don’t want to have a Legislature made up of only people who are independently wealthy.”

The raises have been contentious among teachers and state employees since the board proposed them in January because they are larger than raises under consideration in the Legislature for the state workforce.

Democrats in the House want to increase state salaries for most state and school employees by a bit less than 5 percent over two years. Republican budget writers in the Senate have proposed flat $2,000 raises for most state workers and increases of about 3 percent in state pay for most school employees over two years. Those raises don’t account for supplemental pay by school districts.

Teachers and state employees lobbied the Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials to scale back the raises for lawmakers.

“I think the public has correctly called to our attention, this is pretty rich in today’s economy,” Ned Lange told fellow board members.

Lange noted lawmakers also can receive daily stipends while working. The $120-a-day stipends are intended to pay for expenses such as housing and food.

But the board rejected two attempts to trim the raises Wednesday. Albert and other board members noted that lawmakers’ salaries don’t grow based on longevity, as state workers’ and teachers’ salaries do.

Also weighing heavily in the board’s consideration was a comparison with a group of state administrators. If adjusted to account for lawmakers’ part-time schedule, that comparison puts ideal pay for lawmakers at a bit more than $52,000.

“Everybody kind of agrees we need to get to that benchmark,” board chairman Dick Walter said. But he opposed raising lawmakers’ pay so quickly, saying the economy in many parts of the state remains in bad shape.

Other two-year raises approved by the board total more than 6 percent for judges and more than 7.5 percent for the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

Raises for statewide elected officials over two years range from more than 4 percent for the governor, attorney general, secretary of state and auditor to more than 12 percent for the state treasurer.

No one is drawing the auditor’s salary, which stands to rise to $121,663, because indicted Auditor Troy Kelley has taken an unpaid leave of absence.

The salary commission now must file its plan with the secretary of state’s office by June 1. Once it’s filed, any opponent would have 90 days to collect signatures to put it on the ballot.