Lawmakers cut state worker pay; few cut own pay

Staff writerJuly 30, 2011 

Lawmakers cut most state workers’ by 3 percent this year, but few have taken pay cuts of their own despite crafting legal language encouraging themselves and statewide elected officials to do so.

Four House members – out of 147 Senate and House lawmakers – have elected to cut their pay.

“You know, not everyone can afford to take a pay cut. I’m just really glad that I can,” said Rep. Ann Rivers, a first-term Republican from La Center, who works as a public-affairs consultant and elected to cut her $42,106 salary by 3 percent. She called it “a very personal decision” and said that after voting to cut public employees’ pay, she felt it was wrong not to reduce hers.

The three other lawmakers cutting their pay are Democratic Reps. Frank Chopp, Larry Seaquist and Troy Kelley; each is taking a cut of 5 percent or more. Chopp, as House speaker, earns $50,106.

A few state officials are donating money to charity or scholarships instead of waiving pay. As of Friday, Gov. Chris Gregoire, state Treasurer Jim McIntire and state schools superintendent Randy Dorn, all Democrats, were the only statewide elected officers to have signed up for pay waivers using a new form available through the state Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials’ website, www.salaries.wa.gov. [Update: Lt. Gov. Brad Owen also filed paper late to have his pay cut 3 percent, too.]

For Gregoire, whose base pay is $166,891, that’s a $5,007 cut. She also donates a monthly pay raise that the commission granted her in 2008, spokesman Cory Curtis said, adding that she is taking the cuts to lead by example.

“It’s important for state employees and morale right now to know we are all in this together,” he said.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1986 to create the salary commission and give it the exclusive power to set elected officials’ pay. Its mandate was to keep pay fair, competitive and in line with duties of officers, and it typically takes into account the pay for officials in other states.

But the 1986 language did not allow downward pay revisions – even if an official’s duties were reduced by law. After several proposals to amend the Constitution failed, Gregoire sought language in the state-worker pay-cut bill to encourage the voluntary waivers, Curtis said.

Democratic Sen. Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor sponsored one of the constitutional amendments that died this year. He hasn’t volunteered for a pay cut; he said he already donated a portion of his pay – roughly 3 percent, or $1,260 – for college scholarships to recent high school graduates in his legislative district.

“Different people do different things. A 3 percent cut for a legislator is about $1,260. I gave roughly the equivalent of the amount to scholarships at high schools in my district,” he said. “The other thing I did during the special session was forgo per diem – so it’s a $2,700 pay cut” on top of the 3 percent donated. Per diem is the $90-per-day expense subsidy lawmakers receive when meeting in Olympia.

Chopp’s request was the first filed – and it was done quietly and directly to the House Chief Clerk’s Office in mid-February. Gregoire’s budget director, Marty Brown, sent a memo to all statewide elected officials in late June urging them to participate.

“It’s disappointing. We had hoped for more participation,” said Teri Wright, director for the state Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials.

Like Gregoire, commission members were frustrated that they can’t reduce pay across the board. They instead settled for a two-year pay freeze for the 479 elected statewide, legislative and judicial officers under the commission’s jurisdiction.

And they asked Wright to seek authority from the Legislature to reduce salaries in the future, if appropriate. Wright said she intends to seek such a constitutional amendment next year.

Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Thurston County, is one of the lawmakers who sponsored a constitutional amendment. He said Friday that he had not known about the pay waiver form on the commission’s website and now plans to waive 3 percent of his pay.

Several other officials told the citizen commission in February that they wanted to be treated the same as their employees. Among them was state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who filed paperwork in June to authorize the donation of 3 percent of his pay to the state’s charitable Combined Fund Drive, spokeswoman Sandi Peck said.

Like Alexander, Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia co-sponsored a pay-authority bill and said he didn’t know about the new pay-waiver option. Hunt was in Hawaii on Friday with his wife to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary and said he’ll look into the waiver when he returns.

Hunt said he forfeited the $90 daily expense claim during the special session and took a reduced amount during the 90-day regular session – part of lawmakers’ effort to cut expenses as they bridged a $5 billion budget gap.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688
bshannon@theolympian.com
www.theolympian.com/politicsblog

UPDATE on Aug. 1 to original story: Attorney General Rob McKenna's spokeswoman said today that he, like Kreidler, is donating 3 percent of his pay. The Spokesman-Review newspaper reports that Secretary of State Sam Reed and Auditor Brian Sonntag also opted to donate 3 percent of pay rather than waive their pay and let the money go back to the state treasury. Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark was reported to be considering donating 3 percent of his pay to charities.

Update also adds reference to Lt. Gov. Brad Owen and corrects the date of the last raise for Gregoire and statewide elected officials to 2008.

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