The raises approved by the independent commission Wednesday range from 2 to 4 percent over two years. That’s much less than the 11.2 percent pay raise legislators received in 2015.
As legislators in Olympia stew over budget and school-funding disagreements, an independent commission Wednesday approved salary increases for them, as well as for judges and statewide elected officials.
The increases, approved by the Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials, include a 4 percent pay hike over two years for state lawmakers. They’ll get a 2 percent increase this year and another 2 percent increase 2018.
Regular lawmakers in the state’s part-time citizen Legislature will see their salaries rise to $48,731 by 2018, up from $46,839 now.
Legislative leaders, who will get the same percentage increase, make several thousand dollars more.
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But commissioners hesitated to give similar wage hikes to higher-paid officials like Gov. Jay Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Secretary of State Kim Wyman and Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib. Instead, they approved 2 percent hikes, over two years, for those officials.
The commission, made up of 17 appointed members who come from different parts of the state, was created by a state constitutional amendment intended to take politics out of salary setting. It has the singular authority to set pay for lawmakers, judges and statewide elected officials.
The commission can’t, however, cut wages of elected officials.
The pay hikes were part of a regular salary adjustment, which last occurred in 2015. The increases were approved after a series of meetings where commissioners looked at the officials’ job responsibilities as well as economic data and wages in comparable positions elsewhere.
In 2015, the commissioners granted lawmakers an 11.2 percent pay hike. That was the first raise they had received since 2008, when the Great Recession took hold.
This time around, the commissioners had little enthusiasm for another large bump.
“I was altruistic last time, ‘give them all raises,’ ” Commissioner Patrick Pavey said during the meeting. “This time,” he added, pausing to blow a raspberry, “give them no raise.”
Others noted that legislators have, in recent years, spent more time in Olympia.
“We are asking them to hold almost a full-time job, and we must pay for that,” Commissioner Liz Heath said.
Legislators are deep into a 30-day special session after failing to approve a state budget and schools-funding plan during the regular session.
As they discussed the raises, Commissioner Melissa O’Neill Albert said their job was “to give a salary commensurate with the duties of the job.”
Without raises, “We’ll end up with only independently wealthy people in the Legislature,” she added.
Commissioners, however, balked at handing out similar raises to many statewide officials. Those offices include that of Inslee, who now makes $173,617 annually, and Ferguson, who now earns $159,395.
Instead of approving a recommended 4 percent hike over two years, the commissioners approved a 2 percent increase for Inslee and Ferguson.
They also approved 2 percent raises for the offices of Habib, who now makes $101,889, and Wyman, who earns $121,663 annually. Commissioners did the same for Auditor Pat McCarthy, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, and Superintendent of Public Schools Chris Reykdal.
A few statewide officials got larger raises.
The commissioners approved a 3 percent wage hike for the state treasurer, with 2 percent this year and 1 percent in 2018. Treasurer Duane Davidson, elected last November, now earns $140,438.
And they approved a 4 percent raise, over two years, for Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz. She now makes $132,858. The salary commission noted Franz’s office must manage both a large amount of land and the issue of climate change.
“This is more of a catch-up, in my mind,” said commission vice chairman Gregory Dallaire, adding later, “It’s a big responsibility, and we felt that it had been overlooked.”
Commissioners also approved a 4 percent pay raise for Washington’s judges over two years.
That means state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, the highest-paid state elected official, will make $193,162 in 2018, up from the $185,661 she now makes.