The Gongwer Blog

Do Elected Officials Really Need Raises?

By Christopher Klaver
Posted: April 17, 2019 12:46 PM

Members of the State Officers Compensation Commission will spend the next couple of months finding a way to make whatever recommendations they make on pay for top elected officials relevant but the current makeup of the Legislature, a supportive vote, or any vote at all, seems unlikely.

Is rejecting pay raises for those top officials the wrong move?

There are some obvious arguments in favor of pay boosts for at least some of those top officials.

For the justices, pay for lower court judges is catching up since they are now tied to pay raises for non-union state employees rather than other elected officials. Until a few years ago, judges in the Court of Appeals, circuit courts and district courts only got raises when the Supreme Court did, which meant not often.

The executive branch saw salaries for underlings surpass the boss several years ago. All of the department directors make more than the governor and lieutenant governor before the latters' expense allowances (and some with those allowances).

There is not really a parallel for legislators, though top professional staff have long made more than members in both chambers.

Workplace logic has long said that the top levels should make more than those they supervise and more than those with similar leadership positions in smaller organizations.

What, then, would be the right amount? The chief executive of a similar-sized company would see pay and benefits in the multiple millions of dollars. While the economy is pretty good and revenues relatively strong, and projected to remain there, pulling that kind of money out of various programs to pay elected officials would be political suicide for everyone currently in office (I'm not sure even the opponents would survive that).

Pay should also keep up with inflation, goes the wisdom. Work satisfaction is tied to at least being able to maintain your standard of living.

That would mean more than a 30 percent raise for everyone to cover inflation from the last raise in 2002 until the new raises would take effect in 2021 (decisions by SOCC now take effect for the next Legislature).

The backlash for the 38 percent raises for legislators in 2001, designed to catch them up for inflation, caused the current backlash against pay raises and the change in process from the Legislature having to reject the SOCC recommendations to having to approve it.

So that much is likely out.

The key driver of pay, though, is recruiting: if a business or industry cannot find enough workers to fill jobs, pay increases until people are willing to consider the job and make the investment in training to get it.

There has yet to be a vacancy in any of the statewide elected posts go uncontested. Even without pay increasing, people are willing to put up the money (sometimes their own, often others') to obtain a legislative seat, an executive office or the top court.

Obviously, the full pay and benefits package is sufficient to attract people to the jobs and to work to keep them.

Could better pay attract better candidates? Possibly, but it is hard to prove a negative and most people who run for office will say they do so to serve, not for the money.

Should SOCC recommend raises, then, for the various offices? Sure, everyone deserves an occasional pay raise as long as they are doing a good enough job.

Will the Legislature take it up? Not likely as long as there is not a crisis that drives a need for more money to those posts.

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