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Salaries May Go Up For Elected Officials Citizen Commission Hears Testimony On Ticklish Issue

Associated Press

Gov. Gary Locke, legislators and other state elected officials may soon find more money tucked into their pay envelopes.

A citizen commission assigned the politically ticklish issue of salaries for officeholders heard testimony on the pay issue Thursday. Legislative leaders, judges and state officials gave a soft-sell pitch in the afternoon, but an evening hearing for the public ran heavily against raises of any kind.

Voters created the panel of citizens and salary experts in 1986, after tiring of legislators wrangling over an issue in which they had a personal stake.

The 16-member commission held the first of six scheduled public hearings.

The commission’s pay decisions, due by the first week of June, will go into effect automatically without a vote of the Legislature. Only a citizen referendum would be able to put the plan on hold.

The panel will set the pay levels of lawmakers, all nine statewide elected officials and all judges.

A parade of officeholders made their cases, some explicitly asking for a raise and others simply outlining the duties of their offices and implying they could use some extra money.

In the evening, however, nearly all the public testimony was against raises. Several critics suggested some officials, particularly the lieutenant governor, are overpaid.

“Elected officials have continued to raise taxes, for less services,” said Frank Dare of Olympia. “Taxpayers are fed up with people who have not done their jobs.”

Representatives of Ross Perot’s Reform Party and Citizens for Leaders with Ethics and Accountability Now told the panel Washington’s salaries are among the most generous in the nation and should be restrained.

Tax cuts

Gov. Gary Locke on Thursday asked the Legislature to slow its torrid pace of tax-cutting, even as the Republican-led assembly prepared to send him a major property tax cut and hurry passage of a big business tax reduction.

He said lawmakers have filed about $700 million in tax cut proposals, but he estimates only $300 million to $400 million in surplus revenue is available for that purpose. Republicans believe the surplus will be around $500 million after they’ve squeezed money from the proposed $19 billion budget.

The GOP’s property tax relief package alone, in the form of a modest tax cut Locke signed last week and a larger reduction heading for his desk, would cost about $220 million, his aides noted.

Those cuts would leave Locke unable to afford a $202 million reduction in the state’s business and occupation tax, a campaign promise and something he called a first order of business when he took office last month.

The Senate, which sent the reduction to the House last week, began work Thursday on the $202 million proposal to roll back the B&O tax on service businesses to their level before 1993.

Private hospitals

Taxpayers have a substantial investment in the state’s 88 non-profit hospitals. So what happens to that investment when a non-profit is sold to a profit-making group such as a hospital chain?

A bill considered by the House Health Care Committee on Thursday would require private buyers to preserve “charitable” assets and services originally financed by tax breaks and other public contributions.

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