JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House of Representatives, facing a Feb. 1 deadline for action, wasted little time in defeating a proposed pay increase for legislators, judges and state officials.
The House voted Thursday (Jan. 16) 122-25 with 14 members voting "present" or missing the vote entirely on a resolution rejecting a proposal to raise their pay from $26,803 to $32,500 a year, effective July 1.
That resolution now goes to the Senate which is expected to take up the issue on Monday.
If the Senate fails to approve the House-passed resolution, the pay raises will take effect automatically.
The package of pay hikes for the legislature, judges and lieutenant governor was recommended by a citizen's commission on salaries.
The commission was created under a constitutional amendment approved by the voters in 1994. The commission's salary recommendations automatically take effect unless rejected by both chambers of the legislature.
The commission's pay package was filed in late November. In addition in the pay hikes, the commission also voted to increase the daily expense allowance for lawmakers from $35 to $86.
House members debated for over three hours, and several members attacked the media for distorting the debate, and creating politics where they shouldn't have been.
"I am ashamed and I have lost a lot of respect for this floor because you are not standing here, talking about what is right but what is politically correct," said Rep. Russell Gunn, D-St. Louis County, who supported the increase.
Rep. Mark Elliot, R-Jasper County, said he would vote against the increase because it was far greater than the average income of his district.
"This increase isn't right for my district and it is an insult to those people who earn an average income of $18,500," he said. "It does nothing but further taint our image that we are here only for the money."
Many said the increase, which is the first one above a cost of living adjustment in 20 years, is needed. Without that increase, they argued, people couldn't afford to run for office.
"We shouldn't make this body a situation where people simply make a decision because they can't afford it," said Rep. Laurie Donovan, R-St. Louis County.
Kansas City Republican Glenn Hall made an emotional plea his colleagues to vote for the pay increase.
"Our per diem is ridiculous," he said. "The press has called us greedy...they should see where we live, the houses that we live in, the walls that are never painted, the furnaces that are never cleaned, the dust that we live in."
The increase is needed, Hall says, because the work in Jefferson City has cause him and others to lose money from their other jobs.
However, many including Rep. John Greisheimer, R-Franklin County, acknowledged the political pressure.
"We have no choice politically but to pass this resolution and defeat the increase," he said.