Panel approves pay raises for elected state officials

OLYMPIA — A citizens commission approved pay hikes for state elected officials Wednesday, including a double-digit increase for lawmakers.

The panel endorsed an 11 percent raise for lawmakers after a majority of members repelled attempts to trim the amount.

The Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials also agreed to boost the pay of the governor and the other eight statewide officeholders, plus that of every judge from district court up to the Supreme Court.

Increases will be applied in two installments: on Sept. 1 and again in September 2016.

Legislators, whose last pay raise was in 2008, will receive an 8 percent increase this fall and another 3 percent next year. That will push the annual pay for 143 lawmakers from $42,106 to $46,839. Leaders of the four caucuses earn more due to their added responsibilities.

“I think we gave them the right raise at the right time,” said Commissioner Raymond Miller of Marysville. “They put in a lot of hard work. We were looking to catch up.”

It didn’t come without debate. Attempts to pare it from 11 percent to 8 percent and to 10 percent both were defeated 9-6. The pay raise was adopted on a 10-5 vote.

No one from the general public spoke at Wednesday’s meeting.

However, during the six-month process, several public school teachers urged commissioners to oppose the increase for lawmakers. And Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, asked the commission in a May 6 letter to give lawmakers no more than what state workers might receive in the next two-year budget, which tentatively is 4.8 percent.

Commissioners acknowledged the wrangling under way in the Legislature over pay for teachers and state workers but said their decisions cannot be swayed by political wind.

Their decisions affirmed recommendations adopted in January, which were based on analyses of how each position aligned with comparable jobs in the private sector and other states.

Though they disagreed on the size of the lawmakers’ raise, commissioners unanimously adopted a new salary schedule for the state’s executive and judicial branches.

They agreed on 4 percent raises for the governor, secretary of state, attorney general and auditor, 5 percent for the superintendent of public instruction and lieutenant governor, 6 percent for the insurance commissioner, 7 percent for the commissioner of public lands and 12 percent for the treasurer.

There was no discussion of whether to exclude the auditor’s job because the current office-holder, Troy Kelley, has been indicted and is on leave.

Commissioner Sarah Mahoskey of Snohomish explained that the panel focused on the position and not the person in it.

“It’s the only way we can do it,” she said.

Commissioners approved 6 percent increases for all judges and added an extra 1.5 percent for the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

With the raise, Gov. Jay Inslee will make $173,617 in 2016, up from $166,891 today. Chief Justice Barbara Madsen’s earnings will climb from $172,531 to $185,661.

The raises are not set in stone and can be blocked with a referendum.

Once the adopted wage schedule is filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, a voter would have 90 days to collect and turn in at least 123,186 valid signatures of registered voters. If successful, the issue could be on the ballot this fall.

To see what the new salaries will be, go to www.salaries.wa.gov.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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