Politicians get pay raises, state workers get furloughs

A citizens panel approved the hikes in 2019. Unable to rescind them, lawmakers look to donate their extra earnings.

OLYMPIA — As state workers contend with furloughs and wage freezes, their elected bosses got raises Wednesday — and now want to give back or give away the extra earnings.

A year ago, an independent panel agreed on salary boosts for state lawmakers, the governor, eight other statewide executives and hundreds of judges.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, dousing the state’s roaring economy, driving thousands out of work and opening a multibillion-dollar hole in the state budget.

Gov. Jay Inslee canceled a 3% raise set to take effect July 1 for directors of his cabinet agencies and some managers. Employees, union and non-represented did get a raise but must take several days of furlough by year’s end.

Meanwhile, leaders of the House and Senate, in separate actions, suspended pay hikes scheduled July 1 for hundreds of legislative staff. Collectively, those moves by the legislative and executive branches are expected to save roughly $58 million.

Those elected leaders can’t turn salary hikes down. State law doesn’t allow it.

“You can’t feel good about yourself getting a pay raise,’ said Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley. “As much as I’d like to have the money, you’ve got to admit it’s egregious for us to get a raise when so many people have been hurt in this pandemic.”

Wagoner plans to donate the additional $4,115 he’ll earn this year to Rotary Clubs in Arlington, Monroe and his hometown. He said he wants the money to stay in his legislative district.

Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, a former union leader, said “it doesn’t seem right to take the increase” as employees are forced to sacrifice amid an economic downturn.

“I don’t plan on taking the increase. The question is how and what is the right way” to dispense with it, he said.

Adjustments to the level of pay of elected members of the state’s executive, legislative and judicial branches are considered every two years by the Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. Members include a resident randomly selected from each of the state’s 10 congressional districts, plus representatives from business, organized labor, higher education, the legal world and human resources.

Voters established the commission in 1987 to prevent politicians from deciding their own pay. Its work is funded with state tax dollars but the commission operates independently of the three branches of state government.

In February 2019, the panel approved salary changes to take effect July 1, 2019, and on Wednesday. They boosted the base pay of elected positions and, on top of that, added a 2% cost-of-living adjustment each year.

Lawmakers are now earning $56,881, a nearly 8% bump. Leaders of the four caucuses will continue to earn more because they receive a stipend for responsibilities.

These increases have been a subject of conversation among legislators for some time. In April, 40 Republican and Democratic legislators, representing both chambers, asked the salary commission to hold a special meeting to cancel the increases.

“Simply put, the world is greatly changed from a year ago when these scheduled salary increases were put in place,” they wrote. “At a time when so many are unemployed, it makes no sense for elected officials to be granted a raise. The foregoing of scheduled increases would allow the savings to be directed to higher and better priorities of protecting programs for the most needy in our state.”

Every representative and senator reached this week said they don’t intend to keep it.

Rep. Jared Mead, D-Mill Creek, and Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, each said they will look to assist nonprofits serving those affected by COVID-19 in Snohomish County.

Rep. Carolyn Eslick, R-Sultan, said she plans to contribute “more than usual to the Volunteers of America because they have done outstanding work.”

Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, said he will keep an eye out for individuals needing assistance and quietly pay it forward by picking up the tab for their groceries, gas or other expenses.

“The timing of this, with so many people being out of work and businesses shutting down, couldn’t be worse,” he said. “I’ll keep my eyes open. There’s plenty of need. I’m just going to give money out. There’s great satisfaction doing it.”

Rep. Dave Paul, D-Oak Harbor, doesn’t want to keep the raise, but it might be necessary. He works for Skagit Valley College. His wife works for Western Washington University. Both institutions are cutting jobs.

“If my wife and I do not get laid off, I will donate part or all of it to charity or figure out how to get it to the treasury,” Paul said. And when the Legislature meets in special session, he said, he’ll support efforts to repeal the increase.

Inslee, who is seeking a third term, will make $187,353, up from $182,179 last year. He plans to donate to charities, a spokeswoman said.

Similarly, Attorney General Bob Ferguson will distribute his raise to nonprofits, charities and religious institutions. He and his wife will make a decision as a family regarding the specific recipients, according to a spokeswoman.

Treasurer Duane Davidson said he will steer his into the state Budget Stabilization Account, better known as the rainy day fund.

“I want to emphasize the importance of the rainy day fund,” he said in an email. “We need to pay attention, it is crucial for the financial health of the state that we save in the good times for the bad times.”

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz will direct her scheduled increase, roughly $7,100, to a pair of food banks, Northwest Harvest and Second Harvest.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman said she plans to write a check every pay period to the state treasury as “a very small way” to help the state during this challenging time.

Last month, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler announced he will give his extra earnings to the Thurston County Food Bank, and Auditor Pat McCarthy said she will send hers to The Other Bank, a nonprofit which provides personal hygiene and cleaning items to low-income people.

The citizens commission will meet in September to begin setting salary schedules for the next two-year state budget.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Pallet communities are groups of tiny homes for unhoused people. Here, a worker installs weatherstripping on a pallet shelter at Pallet in Everett in January 2020. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)
Tiny home community is proposed at a Marysville church

The Pallet shelter community would provide transitional housing to eight people. Neighbors have questions.

The Everett Police Department has asked the City Council to keep its nine Stay Out of Drug Areas, zones where people arrested for drug crimes are not allowed. (City of Everett)
Everett police ask council to renew 9 drug enforcement areas

SODAs are a legal tool that prohibits people arrested for drug crimes from entering certain areas.

Police: After short chase in Marysville, man dies by suicide

Officers responded to a domestic violence call. The suspect reportedly shot himself at the end of a chase.

Alain Warchilde racks an e-bike available for Saturday's parking lot sale at Sharing Wheels in Everett on June 16, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Need new-to-you bike? It’s time for a sale at Sharing Wheels

The Everett nonprofit kept fixing and donating bicycles in spite of pandemic closure and challenges.

The final version of the 737 MAX, the MAX 10, takes off from Renton Airport in Renton, WA on its first flight Friday, June 18, 2021. The plane will fly over Eastern Washington and then land at Boeing Field  (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times via AP, Pool)
Boeing’s newest version of the 737 Max makes first flight

The Max 10 took off near Seattle for an expected two-hour trip.

Jeff Thoreson does a cheer with his second grade class before the start of their kickball game on his last in-person day of school on Thursday, June 17, 2021 in Snohomish, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish teacher hit the right notes in memorable career

Jeff Thoreson will retire this month after molding minds at Riverview Elementary School for 41 years.

Arlington-area man arrested in fatal machete attack

The suspect, 31, claimed self-defense. It was an argument over a wheelbarrow, a sheriff’s deputy wrote.

Pilot Dan Tarasievich lines up for a landing at  Arlington Municipal Airport after a morning of flying with friends on Saturday, April 20, 2019 in Arlington, Wash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Could Snohomish County’s two largest airports be expanded?

A study explores expanding runways at Paine Field and Arlington Municipal to relieve a coming crunch.

Junelle Lewis becomes emotional while performing a dance with her children during the Justice to Jubilee Juneteenth Celebration at Skykomish River Park on Saturday, June 19, 2021 in Monroe, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Justice to Jubilee: ‘Noone is free till everyone is free’

People gathered Saturday in a Monroe park to celebrate Juneteenth, a new federal holiday that commemorates the end of slavery.

Most Read