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Elected officials’ pay stirs debate

Bill that’s advancing grants raises in ’13, ’14

BOISE – Plans to give Idaho’s top state elected officials raises over the next four years are scooting through the state Legislature – but not without protest, as lawmakers also approve plans to cut pay for teachers and furlough state employees next year due to budget cuts.

“I just don’t think, given the budget bills that we’ve passed in the last few days, that this proposal is justified,” Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, declared on Friday. But the bill, HB 692a, passed the Senate State Affairs Committee on a party-line vote; it passed the House a day earlier on a 37-30 vote.

President Pro Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, who crafted the pay plan with House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said it provides “what I consider a very, very modest increase” for the officials in 2013 and 2014, after first cutting their salaries 4 percent next year, then restoring them to this year’s level the following year.

The result: Idaho’s governor, who currently makes $115,348 per year, would see that rise to $119,000 in 2014, a 3 percent increase. The Idaho attorney general would see a boost from $103,984 to $107,100 in 2014, also a 3 percent increase, while the secretary of state, controller, treasurer and superintendent of schools would get 8 percent raises, from the current $93,756 to $101,150. The part-time lieutenant governor would see a boost from the current $30,400 to $35,700, a 17 percent increase.

The pay plan originally called for increases nearly twice as large in the third and fourth years, but the House amended it.

Denney said, “Really, if we’re looking at what these executives should be making, we’re not even close to the mark.”

Geddes said Idaho’s governor’s salary now ranks 39th among the states, but Kelly dismissed that argument.

“Last time I checked, we’re not competing for governors with other states; it’s not an interstate market,” she said. “To me, it’s irrelevant what other states pay their constitutional officers.”

The Idaho Constitution forbids lawmakers from making any changes in salaries during the officials’ terms, to avoid political gamesmanship, such as lawmakers threatening an official’s salary when they disagree on an issue.

Kelly, an attorney, said her interpretation of that constitutional clause is that a salary should be set, and then stay the same. Deputy Idaho Attorney General Brian Kane confirmed that’s what has historically happened. Kelly advocated either freezing the salaries where they are now, or just giving the officials the 4 percent pay cut next year and freezing their salaries there.

“We are talking about a lot of money here,” she said. “We are talking about a good living with the salaries that are in place now or even with the 4 percent decrease that’s being proposed for fiscal year 2011.”

Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, countered, “We’re trying to set salaries that will be competitive, so we can entice qualified people to be in this position.”

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is opposing the pay bill, saying he is against any bill that doesn’t let top officials decline raises if they choose. The lack of such a clause has left him, the governor and others accepting raises in the midst of the current state budget crisis, with no option other than to donate the raises to charity.

Stegner said individual officials shouldn’t have a say in the raises – because they’re not for them, they’re for the position. Though the raises are set now, they don’t take effect until after the November election, in which all of the positions are up for a vote.

He also said lawmakers over the years have considered allowing officials to reject raises, and rejected the idea.

Allowing that, Stegner said, merely sets up “a contest on who can be the purest, and rich constitutional officers can afford to do that and take the political bow, and they put an awful lot of political pressure on people that actually need the money to support them and send kids to college.”

The pay bill still needs passage in the full Senate and the governor’s signature to become law.