State employees are slated for a 3 percent pay cut under Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed budget, and state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are saying they want to see their salaries reduced too.
Four pieces of legislation, each with different approaches, had Senate hearings on Thursday. Now legislators will have to decide which strategy they like best.
“I’m not sure the right way to do this; I just want to make sure we do it,” said Sen. Derek Kilmer, a Democrat from Gig Harbor and the primary sponsor of one bill and one proposed constitutional amendment that would require that elected and appointed officials’ salaries be cut by the same percentage as those of public employees.
A 3 percent cut to the current salaries of all legislators, elected executive branch officials and full-time judges from the state district, superior, appeals and Supreme courts would save about $1.6 million per year.
In December, Gregoire asked the Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials, which sets salaries for executive branch officials, legislators and judges, to cut pay rates. But the commission said it did not have the constitutional authority to do so.
“We’re going through an economic recession of the greatest magnitude and everyone is suffering,” said Sen. Paull Shin, a Mukilteo Democrat and the sponsor of another proposed constitutional amendment on officials’ salaries. “Here in Olympia we can’t just sit by.”
Shin’s proposal, which is a companion to a House joint resolution by Rep. Marko Liias, D-Vancouver, would give the citizens’ commission the constitutional authority to reduce salaries during an economic crisis, but would not require that it do so.
A third constitutional amendment proposal, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Vancouver, would allow the commission to reduce officials’ salaries to reflect pay cuts for public workers.
Zarelli and others at the hearing said an amendment like Kilmer’s that requires salary reductions when the Legislature takes certain actions was a bad idea because it would take some salary authority away from the citizens’ commission and put it into the political arena.
“What I didn’t want to do is bring that political football back into the legislative process,” said Zarelli of his proposal. “I think the public was very clear about what they expected, and that was that we wouldn’t control our own destinies when it comes to setting our salaries.”
The citizens’ salary commission was created and given salary-setting authority in 1986 in the 78th Amendment to the state constitution.
Teri Wright, a representative from the salary commission and Judge Richard McDermott of the Superior Court Judge Association also said they favored Zarelli’s proposal because it kept all pay-setting authority in the hands of the commission.
Legislators earn a salary of $42,106 plus $90 per day of work in Olympia, though they sometimes waive the daily amount. The governor’s annual salary is $166,891 and that of Supreme Court justices is $164,221.
Zarelli and Liias both said they anticipated widespread support for the proposals in the House and the Senate, and Zarelli said he expected to work with Kilmer, who is a co-sponsor of Zarelli’s bill, to fine tune the legislation.
“If it came to the floor to a vote, I would be very surprised if anybody voted no,” said Zarelli of a salary reduction amendment. “It’s just a matter at this point of figuring out the vehicle.”
Katie Schmidt: 360-786-1826