State lawmakers haven’t finished an operating budget on time in eight years.
They’re about to get raises anyway.
On Wednesday, a citizen commission that sets elected officials’ salaries voted to increase Washington lawmakers’ pay by 2 percent each of the next two years. That adds up to roughly $2,000 per legislator between now and September 2018.
Right now, a rank-and-file member of the Legislature makes $46,839 per year. With the increases the salary commission approved Wednesday, those legislators’ annual salaries will rise to $47,776 in September, and to $48,731 in September 2018.
Lawmakers are locked in a 30-day special session after they were unable to approve a new two-year state budget during their regular session, which lasted 105 days. They haven’t been able to agree on a new two-year operating budget without going into overtime since 2009.
Several citizen members of the salary commission said their role isn’t to consider the performance or decision-making of individual politicians when setting salaries. Rather, the independent commission considers a range of factors, including job responsibilities and inflation, several members said.
“We’re not a political body. It’s very hard to keep separate our duties because we’re charged with setting salaries for elected officials, but we are not political,” said Melissa O’Neill Albert, one of the commission members. “So we should never be involved in a tit for tat.”
This year, Washington lawmakers are hung up on how to comply with a court order to fix how they pay for public schools, which has been haunting them since the state Supreme Court ruled five years ago the state was failing to meet its duty to basic education.
While some commission members thought the proposed increases for lawmakers were too high, others said it is clear that lawmakers are underpaid considering how much work they take on. Working as a state lawmaker is the equivalent of working about 70 percent of a full time job, commission members said, even though lawmakers are supposed to be in session for only a fraction of each year.
“I think they’re still underpaid, but this moves them a little closer to where we want them to go,” said Gregory Dallaire, vice chairman of the salary commission.
After extended debate, the salary commission decided to award lower raises of 1 percent per year to statewide elected officials, including the governor and attorney general.
Some members of the commission said they thought they shouldn’t give those better-paid elected officials — all of whom make more than $100,000 per year — substantially more money when their job responsibilities hadn’t changed.
“I don’t see how we can make a decision that says they should get a raise, because their job has not changed from two years ago. It’s still the same,” commission member Patrick Pavey said.
The 1 percent annual increases will mean Gov. Jay Inslee’s annual salary will increase from $173,617 to $177,107 between now and September 2018, while Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib’s annual salary will increase from $101,889 to $103,937 during the same period.
Also receiving 1 percent raises each of the next two years: Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, Secretary of State Kim Wyman, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal and state Auditor Pat McCarthy.
A few elected officials will receive higher raises.
Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz will get a 2 percent raise each of the next two years. Commission members said her job — which involves coordinating wildfire-fighting efforts throughout the state — merited a higher increase due to the amount of state lands she has to manage, as well as how climate change is increasing the severity of the state’s wildfire season.
Commission members also decided to give a higher raise to state Treasurer Duane Davidson, who they said shoulders an especially high amount of responsibility for his annual salary of $140,438. The commission voted to increase Davidson’s pay by 2 percent this year and 1 percent next year, bringing his annual salary to $144,679 by September 2018.
Members of the state’s judicial branch will also get a little more money than other statewide elected officials. Judges serving on the Supreme Court, the state’s appellate courts, district courts and superior courts will get a 2 percent salary increase this year and another 2 percent raise in 2018, which commission members said would bring them closer to making what federal court judges make.
The salary commission meets every two years to set salaries for the state’s public officials. The 17-member board consists of 10 citizens who are selected randomly from the state’s voter rolls, while legislative leaders pick the remaining seven citizen members.
The last time the commission approved raises for elected officials was two years ago, and they were much higher. In 2015, the commission gave legislators raises of 11 percent over two years to make up for not increasing their salaries since 2008. Raises for other elected officials ranged from more than 4 percent for the governor, attorney general, secretary of state and auditor to more than 12 percent for the state treasurer.
State lawmakers’ expected raises
Sept. 1, 2017
Sept. 1, 2018
Senate Majority Leader
House Minority Leader
Senate Minority Leader
Secretary of State
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Commissioner of Public Lands
Supreme Court Chief Justice
Supreme Court Justices
Court of Appeals Judges
Superior Court Judges
District Court Judges