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News / Clark County News

State lawmakers could get 11 percent pay increase

Salaries have been frozen since 2008; approval likely at May 13 meeting

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer
Published: March 10, 2015, 12:00am

State lawmakers could receive a boost to their paychecks this year.

A state commission is considering increasing their pay by 11 percent.

Salaries have been frozen since 2008, and Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said the bigger paycheck is warranted.

“State law says to attract the people of the highest quality, you want to establish proper salaries for elected officials and pay them accordingly,” said Moeller, who is House Speaker Pro Tempore.

The Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials, a nonpartisan panel created by the Legislature in 1986, is charged with setting the salaries for more than 470 state officials in the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government. Under the current proposal, most lawmakers’ annual salaries would go from $42,106 to $46,839 by 2016.

“The voters’ responsibility is to evaluate the performance of the person doing the job, but the salary, what they are paid, should be as nonpartisan as possible,” Moeller said. Lawmakers in Washington often also have full-time jobs and are considered citizen legislators.

Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, said if the pay were too low, the job would likely only attract retired or wealthy citizens, which wouldn’t represent the whole state. She said she hopes the salary discussion about pay raises for lawmakers will highlight what she believes is a need to increase pay for other state employees.

“Before I decide whether or not to keep the raise or donate more to my community nonprofits, I believe we have to look at whether state employees — who have had to assume more tasks and duties as the state has experienced cuts, hiring freezes and restructuring — would also receive raises,” Wylie wrote in an email.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, said in an email that she hopes the priority is placed on “implementing policies to help our working families be more successful, such as increasing the minimum wage, implementing paid sick leave and addressing the continued disparities in pay between women and men.”

The 17-person commission charged with setting lawmakers’ salaries is scheduled to adopt the hike at a public meeting on May 13. Ten people from the citizens commission are chosen randomly from registered voter rolls and seven are selected by the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House.

Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Felida, said he believes the current salary could make it “difficult for younger people who are growing their families to consider running for office.”

Under the proposal, the governor’s annual salary would increase from $166,891 to $173,617 in 2016.

Lawmakers do not have control over the salary set by the panel. Freshman lawmaker Rep. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said if the salaries do increase, she won’t accept the money.

“The decisions of the committee are not within our purview and we have no control over them, however, following their public hearings, should they decide to grant raises, it is my intention to either return the funds to the general fund or donate them to charity,” Wilson wrote in an email.

Lawmakers do have control over their per diem, the daily stipend to pay for food and lodging.

Nearly a year ago, a Senate committee voted to increase the per diem rate by $30 to $120 a day. The House also boosted its per diem to $120 for members.

Columbian Political Writer