These 17 people will decide raises for elected officials

  • Sunday, October 14, 2018 10:30am
  • Opinion

Are the 147 members of the Legislature in line for a raise?

Should the salaries of judges in Washington be on par with the pay of those serving on the federal bench?

Does the person overseeing the state’s public school system deserve a boost in the post-McCleary era?

Next week, 17 men and women will tackle those questions and more when they begin the biennial rite of setting the level of pay for each position in the state’s executive, legislative and judicial branches.

They make up the Washington Citizens Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. They include residents randomly selected from the state’s 10 congressional districts, plus others from business, organized labor and higher education. Also represented are the legal and human-resources professions.

Voters established the commission in 1987 to stop politicians from deciding their own pay. Commissioners are supposed to base decisions on the duties of the job — not the man or woman doing it at the time. They can check out what other states pay for similar posts. They don’t have to give any raises, but they cannot lower the salary of anyone in office.

This cycle of salary-setting got under way Oct. 9 and 10 in Olympia, after print deadline. Commissioners heard from several elected officials, including Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Mary Fairhurst.

No Democratic or Republican state lawmaker will address them. The last time around, lawmakers got 2 percent raises in 2017 and 2018, the most recent taking effect Sept. 1. Legislators now earn an annual salary of $48,731.

Gov. Jay Inslee isn’t making an appearance, either. Two years ago, the commission agreed on annual increases of 1 percent to push his salary to $177,107.

This could be an interesting dialogue. Governing the state doesn’t seem to be getting easier, but Inslee has shown he can do it by cell phone while traveling in other states in his role as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. If he enters the 2020 presidential race, Inslee likely would be traveling a lot more in the next two years. That is not supposed to influence commissioners, but it is a hard reality to ignore.

Whether to hike the pay of the superintendent of public instruction will be a challenging decision.

Reykdal submitted 10 pages of information on the job’s duties. It cites new chores under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. It lists new responsibilities that resulted by the state Supreme Court ruling in the so-called McCleary case. That litigation transformed public school funding statewide, giving the state superintendent a bigger role.

The job now pays $136,910 a year, which is 33rd among 50 states, according to commission data. Within Washington, that salary is roughly $40,000 less than the average earning of superintendents of school districts with between 350 and 450 students, according to materials Reykdal provided the commission.

Reykdal stressed this week that he’s not walking in with a request for a pay increase.

“I’ll be there to answer questions,” he said.

The commissioners’ toughest decision might be what adjustments to make to the salary scale of the state’s 430 jurists, from district courts up to the state Supreme Court.

A report provided by judges to the commission in August cited the challenge of an aging judicial branch and a salary scale too low to get attorneys to abandon lucrative private sector jobs.

“Half of all judges in our state are 60 years of age or older,” the judges wrote. “With so many judges retiring and getting close to retirement age, we need to be able to attract a large number of high caliber individuals to serve.”

The report also iterated the judicial branch’s continuing push to achieve parity with the pay scale of federal judges. Those private-sector lawyers are being recruited for the federal bench, too.

Before adjourning Wednesday, Oct. 10, the commission will make recommendations for every position. They will then spend four months gathering responses and maybe other ideas from the public.

Final decisions will be made in February, with any salary changes taking effect July 1, 2019.

And by the design of voters, there’s nothing any elected official can do to change them.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

More in Opinion

Reject dishonest vehicle taxes, vote yes on I-976

Taxpayers are getting ripped off, everybody knows it and politicians refuse to… Continue reading

Mum’s the word: incorporate this plant into your season displays

If your landscape is not a blaze of autumn glory this week,… Continue reading

Lawmakers to governor: How dare you mess with our budget!

They want Jay Inslee to halt his planned $175 million reallocation of state transportation dollars.

Letters to the editor

Renton Councilmember, Mayor Law support Armondo Pavone Dear editor, For over 20… Continue reading

Speaking from experience

The first step to stopping domestic violence is to teach our teens

Still more gardening to do before winter

It’s the third week of September and there is still plenty to… Continue reading

Guest opinion: Gov. Inslee passes up a chance to confront corporate ‘blackmail’

Jay Inslee had a chance recently to face his muggers. He didn’t… Continue reading

‘Butterfly effect’ brings change, good or bad, in all our lives

“Predictability: Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set a… Continue reading

We all benefit when we’re open to new ideas

When I drive in my car, I often listen to the PBS… Continue reading

Fall is for hydrangeas

Don’t miss Windmill Gardens “Smart Gardening Ideas for Fall” at 10 a.m.… Continue reading

Letters to the editor for the week of Sept. 13

Reader wishes more council members were responsive Dear editor, Our council members… Continue reading

x
Did Inslee’s 12-word veto cross the line?

OLYMPIA — When Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed a 12-word sentence in the… Continue reading