A committee of Senate leaders from both parties on Wednesday killed House-passed legislation repealing a 3 percent pay increase for lawmakers.
The unanimous action by the State Affairs Committee headed off making the other 25 senators take a stand on the citizens commission’s plan to boost annual legislative pay from $12,000 to $12,360 and add $5 to the daily in-session expense allowance for lawmakers from outside Boise.
“I think we are setting an example by taking a realistic, very meager pay raise,” Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Twiggs, R-Blackfoot, told the panel members.
But House Speaker Michael Simpson, R-Blackfoot, said Idaho legislative pay is the highest in the West for part-time lawmakers.
He led the House earlier this week in voting 66-0 to reject the pay raise that took effect Dec. 1.
Some leaders, denying charges of political grandstanding, maintained that taking the pay increase, no matter how modest, flies in the face of the message voters sent politicians in the November election.
But Twiggs and others in the Senate disagreed.
“There’s some basic flaws in opening this up to politics,” Sen. Hal Bunderson, R-Boise, said.
He said the citizens commission was established by voters in 1976 to remove the Legislature from setting its own pay in an attempt to take politics out of that process.
The ability of lawmakers to reject or lower a compensation plan approved by the citizens commission, he said, is only to protect against excessive recommendations. Turning down realistic increases undermines the entire system and raises the question of whether the commission should be abolished, Bunderson said.
Twiggs also pointed out that the citizens commission did exactly what it was urged to do last winter during biennial hearings on legislative compensation - provide modest but more frequent raises rather than huge increases like the one that caused such controversy in 1991.
Twiggs emphasized the 3 percent boost this year averages out to a hike of less than 1 percent a year since the last raise.