State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo

State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo

Politicians get pay raises, state workers get furloughs

A citizens panel approved the hikes in 2019. Unable to rescind them, lawmakers look to donate their extra earnings.

OLYMPIA — As state workers contend with furloughs and wage freezes, their elected bosses got raises Wednesday — and now want to give back or give away the extra earnings.

A year ago, an independent panel agreed on salary boosts for state lawmakers, the governor, eight other statewide executives and hundreds of judges.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, dousing the state’s roaring economy, driving thousands out of work and opening a multibillion-dollar hole in the state budget.

Gov. Jay Inslee canceled a 3% raise set to take effect July 1 for directors of his cabinet agencies and some managers. Employees, union and non-represented did get a raise but must take several days of furlough by year’s end.

Meanwhile, leaders of the House and Senate, in separate actions, suspended pay hikes scheduled July 1 for hundreds of legislative staff. Collectively, those moves by the legislative and executive branches are expected to save roughly $58 million.

Those elected leaders can’t turn salary hikes down. State law doesn’t allow it.

“You can’t feel good about yourself getting a pay raise,’ said Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley. “As much as I’d like to have the money, you’ve got to admit it’s egregious for us to get a raise when so many people have been hurt in this pandemic.”

Wagoner plans to donate the additional $4,115 he’ll earn this year to Rotary Clubs in Arlington, Monroe and his hometown. He said he wants the money to stay in his legislative district.

Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, a former union leader, said “it doesn’t seem right to take the increase” as employees are forced to sacrifice amid an economic downturn.

“I don’t plan on taking the increase. The question is how and what is the right way” to dispense with it, he said.

Adjustments to the level of pay of elected members of the state’s executive, legislative and judicial branches are considered every two years by the Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. Members include a resident randomly selected from each of the state’s 10 congressional districts, plus representatives from business, organized labor, higher education, the legal world and human resources.

Voters established the commission in 1987 to prevent politicians from deciding their own pay. Its work is funded with state tax dollars but the commission operates independently of the three branches of state government.

In February 2019, the panel approved salary changes to take effect July 1, 2019, and on Wednesday. They boosted the base pay of elected positions and, on top of that, added a 2% cost-of-living adjustment each year.

Lawmakers are now earning $56,881, a nearly 8% bump. Leaders of the four caucuses will continue to earn more because they receive a stipend for responsibilities.

These increases have been a subject of conversation among legislators for some time. In April, 40 Republican and Democratic legislators, representing both chambers, asked the salary commission to hold a special meeting to cancel the increases.

“Simply put, the world is greatly changed from a year ago when these scheduled salary increases were put in place,” they wrote. “At a time when so many are unemployed, it makes no sense for elected officials to be granted a raise. The foregoing of scheduled increases would allow the savings to be directed to higher and better priorities of protecting programs for the most needy in our state.”

Rep. Dave Paul, D-Oak Harbor, doesn’t want to keep the raise, but it might be necessary. He works for Skagit Valley College. His wife works for Western Washington University. Both institutions are cutting jobs.

“If my wife and I do not get laid off, I will donate part or all of it to charity or figure out how to get it to the treasury,” Paul said. And when the Legislature meets in special session, he said, he’ll support efforts to repeal the increase.

Inslee, who is seeking a third term, will make $187,353, up from $182,179 last year. He plans to donate to charities, a spokeswoman said.

Similarly, Attorney General Bob Ferguson will distribute his raise to nonprofits, charities and religious institutions. He and his wife will make a decision as a family regarding the specific recipients, according to a spokeswoman.

Treasurer Duane Davidson said he will steer his into the state Budget Stabilization Account, better known as the rainy day fund.

“I want to emphasize the importance of the rainy day fund,” he said in an email. “We need to pay attention, it is crucial for the financial health of the state that we save in the good times for the bad times.”

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz will direct her scheduled increase, roughly $7,100, to a pair of food banks, Northwest Harvest and Second Harvest.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman said she plans to write a check every pay period to the state treasury as “a very small way” to help the state during this challenging time.

Last month, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler announced he will give his extra earnings to the Thurston County Food Bank, and Auditor Pat McCarthy said she will send hers to The Other Bank, a nonprofit which provides personal hygiene and cleaning items to low-income people.

The citizens commission will meet in September to begin setting salary schedules for the next two-year state budget.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@covingtonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.covingtonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in News

Primary election 2020: Who will emerge as Inslee’s challenger?

Voting ends Tuesday in an election without big rallies and fund-raisers and face-to-face debates

Sex ed, local control at heart of race for WA state schools chief

Incumbent Chris Reykdal faces five foes who argue he’s pushing too many state policies on school districts.

Abortions could stop at Virginia Mason if merger is approved, reproductive rights advocates say

Hospital representatives said “certain services” would cease, but wouldn’t give specifics.

Inslee warns of stay home order as COVID cases rise

The governor urges young people, who are not getting infected the most, to curb their social habits.

Pandemic is spiking in South King County, governor says

Gov. Jay Inslee met with elected officials, health officials and business partners in Federal Way to hear concerns, suggestions about state’s response to COVID-19.

Sound Transit breaks ground on Federal Way Link Extension

The $3.1 billion project includes three new stations near Kent/Des Moines, South 272nd Street and the Federal Way Transit Center.

Extra $600 in federal benefit for unemployed workers set to end July 25

Payment is on top of base weekly state benefit amount

Courtesy of governor.wa.gov
Inslee extends pause on counties advancing phases to July 28

A spike in cases could cause hospitalizations and deaths to rise soon.

Elected or appointed? King County weighs sheriff options

Voters could be asked to decide in November.

The Red Lion Inn at 1 South Grady Way in Renton is being used as temporary site to relocate individuals experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo.
Renton battles King County over temporary shelter at Red Lion Hotel

County officials believe emergency health order will supersede city’s move.

Courtesy of Mountain View Fire and Rescue
Mountain View Fire and Rescue seeks levy on Aug. 4 primary ballot

Service area includes unincorporated King County near the cities of Auburn, Enumclaw and Kent.

A train route that would shuttle people between Eastern and Western Washington could tie in with the proposed ultra-high-speed rail between B.C. and Portland. Photo courtesy RobertStafford/Pixabay.com
State receives King County to Spokane rail study

It would take about eight and a half hours to reach the Inland Empire from Puget Sound.