Opinion

Legislative pay too high

Adele Ferguson -
Adele Ferguson
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When I started writing this column in 1965, state legislators were paid $3,600 a year.
A few days from now, on
July 1, theyll be getting $40,000 plus a $1,280 cost of living increase and go to $42,106 in July of 2008.
Unlike back in 65, their leaders now get bonus pay, $8,000 more for the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader; and $4,000 more for the House and Senate Minority Leaders. Thats because they have to devote more time than members without leadership responsibilities. I have always opposed the bonuses. People who go after leadership positions do it for the power, perks and opportunities they gain and would continue to do it for nothing if bonuses were withdrawn tomorrow.
So are we attracting a better quality of people to the jobs,
which was the argument used for years in pleading for higher pay?
No, were not.
Lawmakers, from my early days in Olympia (1961 to 1993), went on to become governors, attorneys general, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices. Many of the legislators in those days were wealthy farmers, lawyers and businessmen who were persuaded to come to Olympia every other winter as a public service.
Today, we get bored housewives, public employees who serve as in-house lobbyists for their unions, retirees and various flotsam and jetsam who find it an easy way to make a living. Their perks are pretty good, too. Ill catch you up on those in a later column.
Anyway, in the good old days, legislators had to raise their pay themselves and usually tried to do it when nobody was looking, like after midnight on the last day of the 1971 session when they tripled their pensions and salaries without one word of explanation although theyd been secretly discussing it in caucus for weeks.
The pay raise to $10,560 didnt take effect until 1973 or re-election but a furniture salesman named Bruce Helms filed Initiative 282 in 1973 limiting pay raises to 5-1/2 percent and it passed overwhelmingly. At least I call 798,338 to 197,795 overwhelming.
Their first move to get salary setting out of their hands and on the backs of others was a Salary Committee to recommend increases to the governor. They loaded the committee with big shots making big money who depended on the Legislature for their budgets, like college presidents, personnel managers, etc. The committees first recommendation was $10,000 for legislators. Gov. Dan Evans thought that was too much and reduced it to $7,200. The Legislature jacked it up to $10,560, which generated 1-282.
It was Sen. Gary Grant of Seattle who came up with the idea of expanding the committee by drawing names from each congressional district. In 1986, House Speaker Wayne Ehlers put a salary commission, nine drawn by lot and seven selected by the House Speaker and Senate President, on an initiative and we poor saps not me voted for it. I knew and wrote that those nine peasants on the commission werent going to be the ones who would decide how much the raise would be every other year. It would be the big shots from education, labor and business.
I didnt think $3,600 was a
sufficient salary but the steady climb to $40,000 is way too much. This is still a citizen legislature. Everybody in it can have another job on the side or, more accurately, be a legislator on the side of their regular employment. Im sure it is not the intent of the electorate to be at the point of making it possible for legislators to devote themselves full time to the job. Like our members of Congress, they lose touch with the people they serve. So how much should we pay them? Considering their many perks, $25,000 sounds OK to me. What do you think?

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.


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