April 8, 2012 in City

Spin Control: Readers’ impasse fix: Cut off lawmakers’ pay

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – The longer the Legislature goes, the more readers call with suggestions on how to make it stop.

Last week even featured a candidate for lieutenant governor suggesting that were he in charge (which the lieutenant governor is, in the Senate) he would remove the dividing aisle and move senators around so members of the two parties sat together. Yes, clearly the key to the budget impasse is a new seating chart and better feng shui.

Some suggestions aren’t printable in a family newspaper, and some of them, when taken the wrong way, might bring a visit from police. But among the printable that are not potentially actionable, one keeps coming up: Don’t pay ’em.

This seems to assume, incorrectly, that legislators are lounging in fancy digs, up to their elbows in imported caviar and champagne, or at least Copper River salmon and pricey chardonnay, whenever they are in Olympia.

Any effort to “hit them in the wallet” is a bit more complicated than it may seem, because legislators get a salary – base pay is about $42,100, with bonuses for being in leadership – but it’s doled out over the year and they don’t qualify for OT when they go into overtime. They get paid the same, in session or not.

While in session, they can apply for a per diem, technically called subsistence pay, of $90 a day. But as a story in last week’s Spokesman-Review showed, many members did not ask for that during the first half of this special session, during which most of them weren’t around. It will be interesting to see how many put in for this last week, when everyone was called back to the Capitol in hopes of doing what they’ve been trying to do since late November: Balance the state’s operating budget.

It’s unlikely that any decided to hang around Olympia from Thanksgiving to Easter, just for the per diem.

But under the widely held belief that money talks, it is surprising some member of the unhappy public has not proposed an initiative to allow no per diem for legislators for any special session. To underscore the point, the really disgruntled might tack on an extra penalty, deducting the equivalent of a day’s salary for every day they stay in special session. Docking of pay could also apply to the governor, who calls them into special session.

One might even consider a doubling of the penalty for any governor who issues a call for a special session and suggests the leaders might be able to negotiate for a week, reach a deal, bring members back for a day or two of votes, and everyone go home without hanging around for the full 30 days provided by law. But it would take someone very good at drafting legislation to craft such a “Pollyanna” penalty that could pass muster with the court.

This is not to suggest Washington needs such an initiative, or that it would induce legislators who are acting on political principles rather than pecuniary interest. But in a state where various activists can file almost any simplistic idea possible for $5, and a few entrepreneurs make a living off the ballot measure process, it’s surprising something like this hasn’t popped up.

Could have been the daily double

Sen. Bob Morton got a mention on “Jeopardy” last week. In a category that dealt with proposed states, the answer said Morton had proposed that Washington east of a certain mountain range go its own way.

The question, of course, is: What are the Cascades? A contestant rang in correctly, but you don’t really have to know state political trivia, just state geography to figure it out.

To be fair, however, Morton wasn’t the only person who proposed such legislation. He was always aided and abetted by the late Sen. Bob McCaslin for an idea that would collect a few headlines, several smirks and usually a debate over which side of the Cascade Curtain got the better of being tied to the other.

Say what? Say who?

When the postal workers union planned a demonstration in Spokane on Thursday afternoon, it sent out a press release to explain the protest. But someone didn’t read it carefully before hitting the “Send” button on the email, revealing that it was really just a template for protests all over the country. It included the following:

“ ‘Our postal workers are on the front line and they know how much these congressionally mandated cuts will hurt their customers,’ said xxxxx xxxxx (maybe local union pres).”

Reporters are naturally skeptical that quotes in press releases aren’t really what someone said. But this just makes it too easy.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia Bureau Chief Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items at www.spokesman.com/ blogs/spincontrol.

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