Our Views: Sound off on public salaries

Do state legislators who earn $36,311 a year for their part-time position deserve a pay increase to more than $42,000 for their part-time position? How about the governor at $150,995, or Attorney General Rob McKenna at $137,268? Should each get a salary boost of $10,000?

The Washington Citizens' Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials has recommended significant pay increases for statewide elected officials and members of the judiciary.

Now is the time for members of the public to weigh in on salaries.

The salary commission is scheduled to adopt a final pay plan May 15 at a 9 a.m. meeting at the Radisson Gateway Hotel in Sea-Tac. Whether you agree or disagree with the recommendation, members of the public are encouraged to voice their opinions by contacting the commission directly.

Persuasive testimony

Public testimony can be persuasive. In 2002, public outrage over salary increases proposed in Thurston County torpedoed a plan to give county commissioners an immediate 20 percent pay increase. The pay adjustment was dropped to a 14 percent spread across two years. Similar reductions were made to the salaries for other courthouse officials.

At the state level, the 16-member salary commission was faced with strong public sentiment four years ago when reviewing the pay of elected officials. State employees had gone without a pay raise for two years, and there was strong opinion that pay for elected officials should be frozen, too. The commission compromised, awarding no increase in 2003 and a 2 percent pay raise in 2004.

So the public can have an impact.

Last week, a parade of elected officials appeared before the salary commission here in Olympia. It's the one and only meeting scheduled for the capital city this year. Commissioners will take public testimony in Everett (Feb. 22), Port Angeles (March 22) and Spokane (April 19) before adopting a 2007-09 salary schedule at the Sea-Tac meeting in mid-May.

Making the pitch

At the Olympia hearing, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, made the pitch for more money for lawmakers.

"Although people clearly don't enter public service because of the salary, I do believe we are having a problem retaining some of our members, especially younger people with families, because of financial considerations," Brown said. "I believe it limits the pool of people we are able to recruit, particularly in Eastern Washington. ? The legislative session requires you to move to Olympia."

Now it's time to test that theory among the populace. Surely as the 16 commissioners take their recommendations on the road during the next few months, members of the public will remind them that the office of state legislator is still considered a part-time job and that legislators, by law, are required to meet only 105 days one year, 90 days the next.

Terry Bergeson, superintendent of public instruction, came to the salary commission with her hand outstretched seeking more money, too. In her half-hour testimony, she said guiding the state's education bureaucracy is a taxing job and that her $107,978 salary should at least be elevated to match the current salary of Attorney General McKenna.

It will be interesting to see how many members of the general public agree with Bergeson and if anyone reminds her that she knew what the salary was when she ran for office.

Never easy

Let's face it, setting salaries for elected officials is never an easy proposition. There simply is no system that enjoys broad public support. When legislators set their own salary, they were pummeled. That led to the creation of the independent salary commission with nine congressional district citizen members (selected at large through the list of registered voters) and seven human resource professionals appointed by legislative leaders.

It's as good and fair as any system out there. But its success depends on strong citizen involvement.

If you believe elected officials deserve every penny they earn, let the commission know your opinion. If you believe elected officials are already overpaid, voice that opinion.

No matter what your view, don't let this opportunity to be heard pass by without comment. Salary commission

n Voice your opinion: The address is Washington Citizens' Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials,

P.O. Box 43120, Olympia, WA 98504-3120.

n E-mail: csayer@salaries.wa.gov.

n Telephone: The toll-free number is 866-809-8116.

n Fax: 360-586-7544

n Web site: www.salaries.wa.gov

n Next public meeting: 6-9 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Holiday Inn in Everett.