January 31, 2009 in Idaho

Lawmakers turn down 5 percent pay raise

Move comes as legislators consider pay cuts for state workers
Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE – Idaho state lawmakers made it final Friday: They won’t accept a pay raise this year.

The 33-0 vote in the Senate to reject the scheduled 5 percent raise followed an earlier vote in the House, where the resolution, HCR 6, passed 66-0.

“I think it’s the right thing for us to do in light of the economic crisis that we’re facing,” Senate President Pro-tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, told the Senate.

The action comes as lawmakers are considering pay cuts for state employees, including teachers, because of the state’s tax revenue shortfall.

The $805 raise, to $16,921, and a boost in mileage reimbursement were recommended by a citizens committee that met in June.

That recommendation automatically took effect Dec. 1, but lawmakers had 25 days after the start of this year’s legislative session to reject it. They cut it fairly close; the 25th day is next Thursday.

Geddes said when the citizens committee met, “Our economy and the resources of the state looked considerably different than they do today.”

The resolution is a “sacrifice” for senators, Geddes said, but, “in light of the fact that we are struggling to make every dollar count, this will help us.”

Lawmakers had been getting the raise and the mileage reimbursement boost since Dec. 1, but they won’t have to pay back the money they’ve already received.

“It’d be so convoluted and so complicated to try to recoup that mileage that it was easier from an accounting standpoint just to stop when they pass the resolution,” said state legislative services director Jeff Youtz.

The raise was reversed as of Friday.

Statewide elected officials can’t reject their raises. The state constitution requires their pay be set by statute before their terms begin and not change during their term. The idea was to keep partisan lawmakers from punishing officials of a different party by voting to eliminate their salaries.

Gov. Butch Otter has objected to that requirement this year. Otter says he’s planning to propose legislation to change the constitution and allow state officials to reject raises when the budget is tight.

Constitutional amendments require two-thirds approval from both houses of the Legislature, then must be approved by a majority of voters at the next general election. For now, Otter says, he’ll donate his raise to a state scholarship fund.

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or bzrussell@gmail.com. For more news from Boise go to www.spoksman.com/boise.

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