These 17 people will decide raises for elected officials

A special commission will soon decide salaries for state officeholders, including the governor

  • Thursday, October 4, 2018 7:49am
  • 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 gets under way Oct. 9 and 10 in Olympia. Commissioners will hear 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 cellphone 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 from 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, 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

Lawmakers on the road to finding car tab relief

One of the last spitball fights among lawmakers in the 2018 session… Continue reading

Your South King County legislators in action

Democrats must be careful to not overplay their hand in Olympia

Snowy winter is here

A winter storm earlier in the week brought a thick blanket of… Continue reading

Controversial 2018 election mailers were audacious – and legal

Misleading postcards didn’t violate election laws because they touted non-candidates, the PDC found

Student debt draining retired income | Brunell

Lots has been written about students exiting college saddled with hefty student… Continue reading

East Coast seaports ramping up capabilities | Brunell

While many eyes are fixed on trade talks between our country and… Continue reading

New year will bring a new libraries, opportunities

On Jan. 16, I will celebrate my one-year anniversary as the King… Continue reading

Viadoom looms

Closure, demolition of

Boeing hopes to build upon record year | Brunell

Last year, a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) global study of aerospace manufacturing attractiveness found… Continue reading

Lawmakers aim to revisit, scrutinize how Sound Transit works

Sound Transit should count on getting a share of attention from state… Continue reading

Can Seahawks lasso the Cowboys on wild-card weekend?

The Seattle Seahawks look to stay perfect in opening-round playoff games under… Continue reading

Ways to drain the swamp

Many pundits predict American political warfare will worsen in 2019 and grow… Continue reading