Politics & Government

Constitutional amendment could cut lawmakers' pay

Democratic Rep. Marko Liias has proposed a constitutional amendment to let the state's independent salary commission cut lawmakers' pay during tough economic times.

The commission, which voters approved in 1986 as a constitutional amendment, sets salaries for elected statewide officials, legislators and judges. But while it has the power to raise pay, it doesn't have the authority to cut pay, which propelled Liias to action in this anti-spending season.

Liias says the measure would save an estimated $220,000, a mere ding in next year's $4.6 billion shortfall. His news release issued Monday says:

OLYMPIA – While it won't put much of a dent in the upcoming budget shortfall, Rep. Marko Liias believes lawmakers and statewide elected officials should do their part and accept the same pay reductions that other state workers face.

"The cuts we've made, and will continue to be making, are devastating to our communities," said Liias, D-Edmonds. "This is a time when all Washingtonians are looking to us for leadership, and that means leading by example and reducing our own pay."

Currently, the state constitution entrusts the Washington Citizens' Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials with the responsibility of setting salaries for members of the Legislature, statewide elected officials and judges. However, the constitution does not allow the Commission the authority to enact pay reductions.

"I'm talking to home-care workers facing a ten percent cut in pay, state workers facing a three percent cut, and some teachers and other valuable employees will undoubtedly be let go," Liias said. "At a time when so many families are being affected by the recession, this is just one tiny way to show we are doing our part to help balance the budget and avoid further cuts."

Rep. Liias began drafting a constitutional amendment to allow the independent salary commission to reduce elected officials' salaries in times of economic crisis. Liias plans to work with members of both parties and statewide elected officials to finalize a draft before the 2011 legislative session.

A preliminary estimate shows a 3 percent reduction in salaries for legislators and statewide elected officials would produce a savings of $220,000. With many elected officials publicly supporting a reduction in pay, Liias hopes the commission will be able to reduce salaries without much resistance.

Because the measure amends the state constitution, it will require the approval of a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Legislature, as well as approval by the voters in November 2011. Liias will introduce the legislation for the 2011 legislative session, which begins January 10.

No word yet on Liias' prospects of getting this on the ballot. But it looks like a slam dunk for voter passage if he does this year. Of course, by the time voters could weigh in during November and the commission revisited pay again in 2013, the need for the measure might have gone away.