JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House opens discussion Thursday morning (Jan.16) on the politically painful issue of raising their own salaries.
Before the House will be a proposal approved Wednesday night by the House Rules Committee that would reject a pay increase recommended by a citizens commission on government salaries.
Committees from both the House and Senate held hearings Wednesday on commission proposal to raise the salaries of both legislators and judges.
After its hearing, the House committee approved, 12 to 2, a resolution rejecting salary hikes. Committee Chairman Gracia Backer, D-Callaway County, said the resolution would be debated by the full House today.
Reps. Rita Days and Brian May, both D-St. Louis, voted against the recommendation.
The General Assembly has until Feb. 1 to take action to block the raise, which would grant more money to legislators, judges and the assistant attorney general. Unless both the House and Senate approve resolutions rejecting the raise, it will take effect July 1.
While opposition to the raise appears overwhelming in the House, a plan has emerged in the Senate that would accept the commission's pay-raise proposal, but not fully fund the pay raises at the start.
That was the idea presented to the Senate committee which is scheduled to vote on the idea Monday.
To both the House and Senate committees, the salary commission's chair urged lawmakers Wednesday to "bite the bullet" and accept the pay raise.
"There are many, many legislators in this assembly up here that are having trouble making ends meet with these salaries," said Robert Kortkamp, salary commission chairman.
He said he feels the jump in legislative salaries from $26,803 to $32,500 is justified in part because of the time demands of the job. The commission also looked at salaries in neighboring states and states with similar demographics and took into consideration the fact that lawmakers' salaries have increased by around $5,000 over the past nine years.
Kortkamp cited the rigors of being on perpetual call to serve a constituency as a reason for the raise.
"They got you coming to dog and pony shows, pinning ribbons on dogs," he said at the hearing. "There is no free time for you."
The most common argument rules committee members heard in favor of the raise package was the need for a living wage salary to keep and attract the best candidates for legislative seats.
"Thirty-five dollars a day is not enough for me," said Rep. Mary Bland, D-Kansas City, referring to the current per diem pay. "My room at a low-cost hotel is $44.95 plus tax."
If the pay increase is approved, which appears unlikely in the House after Wednesday's hearing, per diem would increase to $86.
Bland and Rep. Laurie Donovan, R-St. Louis County, spoke in favor of the pay raises. Several attorneys from around the state also voiced their opposition to the House resolution against the raises.
Kortkamp and Timothy O'Leary, a retired Kansas City judge, represented the commission, which was formed by a constitutional amendment passed by a 1994 statewide vote.
"This is not a slap in the face to you," said Backer, who plans to vote against the raise. "I don't know that salary automatically goes up with competence."
The salary commission held more than 10 hearings in Jefferson City and five in other parts of the state. Kortkamp and O'Leary said they heard from lawyers, a few legislators and the occassional member of the general public.
"Did the everyday lady in the tennis shoes show up?" Kortkamp asked. "No. Ordinary people did not show up, unfortunately."
If the salary package is not approved, the commission will meet again in the spring of 1998 to design a proposal for the 1999-2000 fiscal year, Kortkamp said.