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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Legislator Wants Colleagues To Vote On Their Own Raises

Lawmakers taking pay raises should do so in the light of day, House Minority Leader Jim Stoicheff told a House of Representatives committee Tuesday.

Stoicheff, D-Sandpoint, introduced a bill that would force the Legislature to vote on any proposed increase in pay or expenses. The bill narrowly made it out of committee, thus moving on to the full House for a vote.

In 1976, Idaho voters established a citizens committee to recommend raises in legislative pay. The Legislature has 25 days to reject a proposal. If it doesn’t, the raises kick in automatically.

“It’s sneaky,” said Stoicheff. “We pretend we’re studying it really hard. We just hold it and it gets put into our paychecks.”

That’s what happened this year in the Senate. The committee recommended raising annual pay from $12,000 to $12,360 and expenses from $70 to $75 per day.

But the House, including Stoicheff, unanimously rejected the increases, saying they would look bad in what’s purported to be a cost-cutting year.

But then the Senate’s State Affairs Committee killed the legislation by refusing to let the full Senate vote on it.

Thus, the pay raise took effect anyway.

Several representatives at Tuesday’s meeting said they like the current system. Without it, they argued, no legislator ever would vote for a pay raise for fear of the political fallout.

“The headlines will read this way: `Legislature votes itself a pay increase,”’ said Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona.

And without a competitive salary, argued Rep. Marv Vandenberg, D-Coeur d’Alene, the Legislature would become the exclusive domain of retired people and the independently wealthy.

Rep. Jeff Alltus, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he doesn’t want to be in the position of voting on his own raise.

“I’ve always hated the fact that Congress can vote themselves a raise,” Alltus said. “I thought that the idea of the commission was to get this out of the political realm.”

But House Majority Leader Bruce Newcomb sided with Stoicheff.

“Under the present system, we do vote ourselves a pay raise,” he said. “We just don’t come out and say it. I think it (Stoicheff’s bill) is just saying, `Let’s be honest with the public.”’