Sometime soon, the State Officers Compensation Commission, a panel of gubernatorial appointees, will recommend pay levels for legislators and statewide elected officials starting in 2017.
One of the SOCC members, when the panel met Wednesday, complained that legislative leaders had provided no recommendation as to what, if anything, should change with their pay.
But for legislators to avoid anything to do with their pay level is no surprise. Ever since the SOCC, at legislative leaders’ behest, recommended a 38.7 percent pay increase for legislators for the 2001-02 term, and the Legislature allowed that increase to take effect, the subject of legislative pay increases has been taboo.
That pay increase has become comparable in the public mind to the old “what happened to the lottery money” saw as far as tainting opinion of the Legislature. Besides the remarkable increase in pay, from $56,981 to $79,650, it also had the effect of juicing the pension benefits for those legislators still in the old pension system.
The supporters of the raise did make a legitimate policy point, that in the era of term limits, it was becoming difficult to persuade those in their 30s, 40s and 50s, in their prime earning years, to take six to 14 years away from their careers, to serve in the Legislature at the pay level at that time. They feared a Legislature, mainly the House, dominated by 20-somethings and those in their 60s nearing retirement.
But the uproar predictably was massive. Under the system at the time, the Legislature only could reject a SOCC pay recommendation with two-thirds majority votes in the House and the Senate. The Senate, dominated by veteran members serving their last term under term limits who would never seek elected office again, made clear it would not vote on the issue. The House, with a membership still very much planning a future in politics and sensing a free pass with the Senate not planning to act, overwhelmingly voted to reject the raise.
The Senate, true to its word, did not vote, and the raises took effect.
But the fallout was significant. The Legislature, under withering attack from the public, put a proposal on the ballot to amend the Constitution, requiring legislators instead to vote affirmatively to approve any SOCC pay recommendations. Voters passed the change. Not only has the Legislature not approved a pay increase since then, it actually approved a 10 percent pay cut in 2009 in the midst of the Great Recession, dropping salaries to $71,685.
And, adjusted for inflation, the $56,981 legislators were paid in 2000 would now be $77,670 today. Yet, looking back at a 2002 Citizens Research Council of Michigan report, the old SOCC system did not keep legislator pay up with inflation either, though it did mean some type of increase almost every year or two.
Certainly, at $71,685 a year, serving as a legislator remains a more than financially viable endeavor, though most would say that’s not the reason why they run. But it’s hard to imagine that pay level increasing any time in the foreseeable future, if ever, under the current system and with memories of the 38.7 percent pay increase still firmly in the ether.
The public probably would be happy, however, to supply the Legislature with the world’s smallest violin.
Core Principles, the conservative newsletter Republican former Rep. Jack Hoogendyk started, has a new editor, Cindy Duran.
Mr. Hoogendyk, who lost to former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin in 2008, has essentially phased himself out of the newsletter since moving to Wisconsin in 2013. He would still produce a newsletter occasionally, but said in a newsletter announcing the shift that he decided to give up the newsletter this past December.
In Ms. Duran, who ran against and lost to Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) in the last primary, Mr. Hoogendyk said he has an editor who shares his conservative views.
Ms. Duran said in an introductory letter that she highlighted limited government, lower taxes and more individual rights she talked about in her campaign. “Faith and family were, and continue to be, issues that were important to people I talked to during my campaign,” she said, adding that they would continue to be highlighted in the newsletter.