Salary commission action looks just

So, how much is a good state legislator worth these days?

A citizen commission that sets Washington elected officials’ pay has decided that our representatives and senators should be paid at least 11 percent more over the next two years. Rank and file members now earn $42,106 and will see that go to $46,839.

News of double digit pay raises would make most state workers jubilant. But this one landed in the Legislature like a stinky egg last week.

Several legislators put distance between themselves and the pay issue because their deadlocked budget talks have put raises for teachers and state employees in question. Legislators are in a special session that began April 29, and the Senate is balking at funding state-employee contracts that offer smaller pay hikes, which makes it all kinds of awkward.

Horrific timing, said Democratic Rep. Chris Reykdal of Tumwater.

Reykdal, Gov. Jay Inslee and others plan to donate some or all of their raises, at least for a while. Reykdal said he’ll give away the portion of the raise that exceeds what state workers and teachers expect to get. Reykdal said he’ll accept the full raise once cost-of-living adjustments for teachers and line workers equal 11.2 percent.

If the Legislature votes to accept contracts negotiated with the governor, which we strongly favor, state workers will get cost-of-living adjustments of 3 percent July 1 and 1.8 percent next year. The legislative raises are evidence lawmakers should do more for teachers, who get smaller COLAs than state workers under the Senate budget plan.

Republican Sen. John Braun of Centralia put out a news release saying he disagreed with the Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials’ decision to raise pay 8 percent this year and 3 percent in 2016, and he won’t accept a pay raise “until we finish work on the state’s budget and put education first.”

Those are all fine sentiments and probably smart moves for anyone running for re-election in 2016.

Raising pay by 11.2 percent for lawmakers is generous — more than twice what most state employees, who last got across-the-board raises in 2008, will be getting under the contracts. But unlike lawmakers, most state workers got 5 percent longevity adjustments at least once since the last across-the-board raises for legislators.

The salary commission, created by a public vote in 1986, includes citizens drawn at random from voter rolls. Its members also voted last week to raise pay by a smaller amount for Inslee, most other statewide elected officials and members of the state and county courts.

Inslee’s raise is 4 percent, spread over two years, pushing his yearly pay to $173,617. Judges get more. The state treasurer appears to get the largest increase — just over 12 percent — to $140,438. All raises are given in two steps, first on Sept. 1 and again on that date in 2016. The total cost for increasing legislative, executive and judicial pay is just over $3 million.

The commission vote was 10-5 in favor of the raises, and member Melisa Albert summed up the majority view this way:

“We thought there was some catching up to do. … We don’t want to have a Legislature made up of only people who are independently wealthy.”

That is true. And while it’s easy to want to punish a slow-moving Legislature with slow-rising pay, it’s also true that smaller pay incentives don’t improve the quality of lawmaker either.