How can state legislators slash all salaries but their salaries?

The law won't let them reduce their pay. And, unfortunately, it's a law passed by voters. The law needs to be changed.


Whether 147 state legislators receive a 3 percent pay raise or a 3 percent pay cut over the next two years, it will have virtually zero impact on the $5.1 billion budget shortfall state government now faces.

Yet, from a political standpoint the salary status of state representatives and senators does matter.

After all, lawmakers are poised to slash pay for many state workers, including teachers. If lawmakers are expecting state employees to make this sacrifice, shouldn't they be willing to do the same?


And, ironically, many lawmakers and top state officials would be willing (at least publicly) to lower their pay right along with the employees.

Unfortunately, they can't do so without changing the law.

In 1986 voters approved a constitutional amendment that took the power to set salaries away from the Legislature and put it in the hands of a 16-member commission. The panel includes nine voters chosen at random by the secretary of state. The other seven members come from academia, business, law, organized labor and other sectors.

The commission meets once every two years to set salaries, using consultants' studies and discussing the changing duties and responsibilities of each office and other factors, according to The Associated Press.

This commission has been a lousy idea from day one. The salaries for elected officials have gone up and up -- and up -- regardless of the economic situation the state is facing. Those making the decision don't answer to either the voters or elected officials. The commissioners can do as they please -- and they certainly have.

Yes, these are difficult and important jobs, but they are also public-service jobs. They should not necessarily track similar jobs in the private sector.

Prior to the commission being established, the Legislature set the salaries that would take effect after the next election. Legislators hated this system as it often put them on the political hot seat.

Sen. Joe Zarelli, the top Republican on the Senate budget committee, sponsored a constitutional amendment, which also requires a vote of the people, to address the pay issue. Getting that passed in the midst of the budget crisis is simply not a top priority, and Zarelli knows it.

"Symbolically, it's important. But it amounts to very few dollars," Zarelli said. "You can only fight for so many things."

A year ago, Gov. Chris Gregoire had requested a pay reduction for herself and other elected officials, but that, too, requires a change to the state constitution.

After Gregoire and lawmakers get this budget finalized, they need to get behind a proposal to change the approach taken by the salary commission or, perhaps, abolish the commission.

It's simply wrong -- politically and at every other level -- for legislators to slash employees' salaries while their paychecks aren't touched.


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