A citizen commission that sets salaries for Washington legislators, judges and statewide office-holders has just given pay raises to our state’s elected officials.
This might create a political mess in some quarters. We sure hope so — especially if it gives the Legislature the kick it needs to write a fair state budget and adjourn.
In particular the Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials agreed to raise pay by a total of 4 percent over the next two years for state legislators. Judges are also to receive a pair of 2 percent yearly raises, while many statewide elected officials such as Gov. Jay Inslee see 1 percent increases.
The larger raises for lawmakers ought to put Senate-majority Republicans between a rock and a hard place politically.
Which is where they belong.
That is because the GOP leaders in the Senate have taken an excessively tight approach to many pieces of writing the two-year state budget. This has led to a political stalemate with the Democrat-led House, producing the ongoing 30-day special session and possibly even more overtime sessions in June and July.
Of particular concern is that the Republican-majority coalition controlling the Senate has spurned labor contracts negotiated between Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s labor team and more than two dozen employee unions.
Those ratified contracts call for three separate raises of 2 percent each — or more than 6 percent total over two years — for tens of thousands of unionized agency employees. Traditionally those raises are also passed on to management and other unrepresented workers, which effectively turns the contracts into systemwide raises.
The Inslee-backed contracts raise pay by additional amounts for select jobs where compensation is low compared with private and public peers — or where there’s a crying need to fill positions. This latter rationale is why contracts call for raises of more than 20 percent for psychiatric nurses at Washington State Hospital, where Inslee’s administration has filled 388 staff vacancies and still needs to fill more.
Lawmakers always have the ability to accept or reject these contracts.
But Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman John Braun of Centralia, who is the lead architect of the Senate budget plan, wants to reject all but two of the contracts altogether. He favors one contract for corrections staffers that went to arbitration and can’t be rejected; another is for politically popular State Patrol staffers. The proposed House budget accepts the contracts.
Instead of the contracts, Braun has suggested across-the-board pay hikes of $500 on July 1 and $500 in July 2018.
In other words, he’s offering raises to full-time state workers that are barely half as large as what he and other legislators now will receive each year for part time jobs. Pay for Braun and other rank-and-file members of the Legislature rises from $46,839 a year to $47,776 in September; it goes up again to $48,731 in September 2018.
The Republican Senate majority leader and Democratic House speaker are set to get raises of more than $1,000 a year — hitting $57,990 by 2018. That is before daily, or “per diem,” expense stipends are given every day lawmakers are in session or on the job.
We freely acknowledge that the labor contracts negotiated by Inslee could possibly be too rich. But the Senate response is totally unfair.
It seems that the Senate response might be embarrassing to anyone except a legislator.
Until now they are getting larger raises.
Braun and other lawmakers cannot change the verdict of the citizen commission, which was set up in the 1980s as a state constitutional amendment. A new amendment and vote of the people would be needed for that.
The 17 salary commissioners, including 10 chosen at random from each of the state’s congressional districts, can hold pay raises to zero, but they cannot cut pay. They base the raises on comparisons to other states’ public officials and to comparable jobs.
So lawmakers are stuck with their September raises.
But at the same time, the Senate can’t just accept the pay contracts negotiated by the governor. Not without blowing a hole in their ideologically driven budget plan, which raises property taxes in many Democratic strongholds but cuts them in Republican ones.
Tough neighborhood. Our advice: Cut the hypocrisy. Accept the contracts. Or if the contracts really are too rich and need to be rejected then offer something reasonable.
Something reasonable means they should also support a tax plan for schools that doesn’t force false choices on employee pay and other legitimate costs of government.