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Lawmakers vote down higher salary caps for officials

January 23, 2003
By: David Bryan
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - In a nearly unanimous vote, Missouri's House rejected a proposal to raise salary caps for themselves and other state elected officials Thursday.

But the vote was largely symbolic. Even if the proposal had passed, funding for higher caps would have required a separate bill.

Before the legislature were recommendations adopted last fall by the Citizens' Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials for salary increases of 5.8 percent for the next two budget years.

Those are nearly identical to the current salary structure adopted by the commission two years ago that lawmakers allowed to take effect, but which the legislature has not funded.

Under Missouri's constitution, the commission's recommendations automatically take effect unless rejected by both the House and Senate.

Discussion on the House floor over the increase was dominated by strong disapproval for the salary increases with many legislators mentioning the current budget deficit.

"It just doesn't make sense to vote ourselves a pay raise when there is a budget deficit," said Rep. Jason Brown, R-Platte City.

The attitude on the House floor was consistent with Brown's, including Rep. James Seigfried, D-Marshall, who submitted a joint resolution that would abolish the commission.

"I don't know how much the commission costs the state each year, but I think we need to take a look at stopping the commission and my joint resolution may help," Seigfried said.

Rep. Sharon Brooks, D-Jackson County, was the only vote against rejection of the commission's recommendation. She argued that many people do not understand the financial sacrifice that representatives must make.

"I am aware that the state is under tremendous financial deficit, but in terms of the salary issue, a lot of us make tremendous financial sacrifices as state representives," Brooks said in an interview after the House vote.

She also said that financial shortcomings can hinder some people from becoming state elected officials.

"A lot of people are being denied the opportunity of public service because of this tremendous sacrifice," Brooks said.

House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County, stressed the importance of public service.

"Nobody's going to get rich doing this job," Hanaway said. "Everyone here has chosen to serve their state and come to the job knowing precisely what it takes."

Earlier this month, the Senate passed it's own version of a resolution rejecting the increases. Formal rejection will require that one of the two chambers agree to pass the other chamber's resolution.