Citizens’ commission sets lawmakers’ pay
A constituent recently asked me not to vote for a salary increase for legislators. He noted, “I have not had a raise in four years.” Similar comments are voiced from other citizens struggling to make ends meet in this difficult economy. “Please don’t vote yourself a raise,” they say.
Many people think legislators in Olympia set their own salaries, just like Congress does in Washington, D.C. However, that is not the case. A citizens’ commission sets our salaries.
The Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials was created in 1986 when voters approved House Joint Resolution 49. The measure amended the state Constitution to allow the creation of an independent citizen commission to set the salaries of the state’s elected officials.
Prior to the passage of the constitutional amendment, the 1986 Legislature passed a bill that defined how the salary-setting work was to be accomplished, and removed political considerations from the process.
Since 1987, the citizens’ commission has been setting the salaries of 479 elected state officials, including the Legislature, the governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, commissioner of public lands, insurance commissioner, and Supreme Court justices.
The commission is made up of 16 unpaid citizens. They are selected by two methods. Nine members are randomly selected by the secretary of state from the rolls of registered voters — one from each congressional district. The other seven are selected by the president of the Senate and the House speaker, and represent higher education, business, professional personnel management, the legal profession, and organized labor.
The commission meets from January through May of odd-numbered years to craft its two-year salary schedule for state elected officials. Public hearings are held to gain citizen input. By May, the commission adopts a final two-year salary schedule.
During the last major budget crunch in 2003 when the salary commission voted to bump our pay, many legislators, including myself, chose to give that pay increase to charity.
This year, the state is facing a budget deficit that could exceed $7 billion. Few people in the private sector are getting salary increases. If anything, they are trying to hold on to their jobs.
When the salary commission met two weeks ago, I signed a letter with my fellow House Republican colleagues urging the board not to approve pay increases for lawmakers this year. In tough economic times, I believe lawmakers should lead by example and make the same sacrifices that families throughout Washington are making. Everyone has to cut back, and especially when our state is facing such a large budget gap, we as lawmakers should do the same.
The salary commission agreed. During its Jan. 21 meeting, the commission adopted a proposal that freezes the salaries of state elected officials for the next two years.
Four public hearings are scheduled on that proposal, including one March 17, 6 p.m., at the Best Western Lakeway Inn in Bellingham. I encourage your input before the salary commission makes its final decision in May.
EDITOR’S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or from his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.