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Salary Commission recommends sizeable raise for elected officials

November 15, 2002
By: Jason McLure
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The state's salary commission recommended legislators give themselves, the governor, and other statewide officials a 5.8 percent raise in each of the next two years. By a single vote they also recommended state judges receive a $6,000 raise for each of the two years.

Two leading legislators predicted the raises would not see the light of day in the legislature, which has two ways to scrap the salary recommendations.

First, the constitution gives the General Assembly until February to reject the recommendations outright.

If not rejected, the recommendations still require the legislature to fund the increases in the appropriations bills.

Two years ago the commission recommended a 5.5 percent increase in the pay of elected officials, but the legislature chose not to fund it.

With Missouri's economy stalled and the state facing a sizeable budget shortfall, incoming House Majority Leader Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said it's likely the commission will be ignored again. Crowell said state employees should take priority over politicians.

"I would be shocked if the recommendations of the Salary Commission were agreed to by the General Assembly," he said. "We're going to take care of our state workers before we take care of our judges and before we vote ourselves as legislators any pay raises."

A similar prediction came from the ranking Democrat on the Senate appropriation's committee. St. Louis County Senator Wayne Goode said the recommendations were "unlikely to be approved" and that he would support a measure to eliminate the commission altogether.

Gov. Bob Holden's office refused to take a position on the proposed salary increases. Chris Kelly, spokeswoman for the governor, said it was "too early" for the governor to be involved in the issue.

Commissioner Kevin Dailey from rural northwestern Missouri voiced opposition to the judicial raises. He said even though state employees are facing higher out-of-pocket expenses for health care, they shouldn't receive such large raises when few in the private sector can expect to enjoy the same.

"My health insurance has went up, my deductibles have went up," he said. "We're facing the same thing that the state employees are facing and we're not getting big raises out in the private industry either."

Commission Chairman John Ebeling said the state needs to pay its elected officials and judges adequately if it expects to attract the best and the brightest into public service.

"We have to remind the legislators that if we want to keep good people in these offices and don't want people who are just doing it as a little extra-curricular activity, they have to be properly compensated," he said.

Ebeling warned the legislature not to scrimp on salaries, especially since the pay of the judiciary and elected officials make up only a quarter of one percent of the state budget.

"It is not possible to solve all our budgetary problems on the backs of [state] employees," he said.

The commission recommended the legislature also consider weighing the usefulness of having a state salary commission if its recommendations continue to be ignored.

Eberling said the first session of the commission alone cost the state $20,000 in expenses. He said it was not a good use of time and resources to gather 22 commissioners from around the state to make recommendations the legislature will not adopt.