Article was originally published by the Tri-City Herald Editorial Board
With the economy tanking and a record number of people out of work, now is not the time for Washington state’s elected leaders to receive a significant bump in pay.
But those salary hikes are scheduled to happen in July regardless, revealing a terrible flaw in the system that determines wages for state legislators, judges and elected state leaders like the governor and attorney general.
It’s now very apparent the process is in need of an update.
Back in 1986, voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the creation of an independent, citizen commission tasked with setting salaries for state elected officials.
The purpose behind the move was to remove politics from the process and keep lawmakers from setting their own pay, which in theory sounds like a great idea.
The problem is the commission approves wages for a biennium, and it is not allowed to decrease that amount once the pay schedule is set.
So here we are in the second year of a two-year cycle, and by law the salary increases must be paid even though the state is in an economic tailspin thanks to the coronavirus lockdown.
Last month, 39 state legislators signed off on a letter to the Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials asking it to recognize the “changed reality” this year and reconsider the July pay increase.
“At a time when so many are unemployed, it makes no sense for elected officials to be granted a raise,” the letter said. Those who signed it include Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick; Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville; Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside; Rep. Matt Boehnke, R-Kennewick; Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick and Rep. Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser.
But the commission responded by saying it has no authority to alter or freeze salaries now that they’ve been set.
This is a conundrum that should be fixed as soon as possible. Flexibility is needed in times of economic crisis.