Washington's legislators will receive an 11 percent salary increase over the next two years.
The Washington Citizens' Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials voted 10-5 for that increase Wednesday, along with salary hikes for the state's judges and executive branch officials.
Two attempts to bump the legislative salary increases down, to either 7 percent or 10 percent, over the next two years were defeated by 9-6 splits.
The bulk of the 11 percent increase approved by the commission is due to the Legislature’s not receiving a salary increase since 2007. The rest is for general cost-of-living increases.
The 11 percent increase caused angst for some salary commissioners, most of whom are selected at random from among registered voters in congressional districts across the state, to balk. "I don't think the legislators' jobs have changed significantly from the past,” said salary commissioner Ned Lange. Referring to public comments about the proposed increases, Lange added, “The public said correctly this is pretty rich in today's economy."
However, salary commissioner Melissa O'Neill Albert said: "The salary is so low to begin with." She said the alternative proposals were not significantly less than the 11 percent increase in terms of total dollars.
Right now, a state legislator generally makes $42,106 annually, which will go up to $45,474 on Sept. 1 this year and to $46,839 a year on Sept.1, 2016. That translates to a 3 percent cost-of-living raise and a 5 percent catch-up from 2007 in the first year — and 1 percent cost-of-living and 2 percent catch-up raises in the second year. The four caucus leaders in the Legislature make slightly more.
Calculations by the National Conference of State Legislatures show that Washington's part-time legislators work about 70 percent of the time annually logged by a normal working person each year. Ten states have legislators whose annual work time over a year has been calculated at 80 percent of the time needed for a regular job. Washington's legislative salaries are the highest in the 70 percent category and fifth highest overall nationally.
This increase could become politically dicey. GOP and Democratic legislators are battling each other on how much money in the 2015-2017 budget should go to raises for teachers and state employees, with the Democrats supporting the higher raises.
The commission received a significant amount of written feedback after the 11 percent salary increase proposal was first unveiled in January. Albert said the bulk of the feedback appeared to be from teachers. "It's been very strategic," she said.
Members of the public would have until mid to late August to file a referendum petition to change the passed salary increases and gather nearly 125,000 valid voter signatures. If a petition campaign gathered enough signatures, state voters would decide in the fall general election whether to approve the salary increases. David Ammons of the Secretary of State’s Office said there has never been a referendum campaign since a constitutional amendment took salary powers from the Legislature and gave them to the citizens’ commission. But a 1973 referendum rejected salary increases that had been approved by the Legislature.
The salary commission also approved a 3 percent and then a 1 percent salary increase over the next two years for Gov. Jay Inslee, strictly for cost-of-living purposes. Most other statewide elected officials will receive larger percentage pay increases because the scopes of their duties have expanded in recent years. Judges, ranging from district courts up to the Washington Supreme Court, will generally receive a 6 percent increase over two years to cover cost-of-living increases and to catch up to what is paid to federal judges.