JEFFERSON CITY - Pay raises for lawmakers and judges is emerging as one of the first issues that will come before Missouri's 1997 legislative session.
The legislature faces a Feb. 1 deadline if they want to stop the pay boost.
In the House, Rep. Phil Smith, D-Louisiana, is one of a few lawmakers who say they'll sponsor resolutions to reject the raise.
"I think what bothers the general public is the amount of the raise all at one time," said Smith, who has heard opposition to the increase from many of his constituents.
If legislators do not reject the pay increase, their salaries would increase from the current $26,803 to $32,500, effective July 1. In addition to the salaries, lawmakers' per diem pay would be $86 as opposed to the current $35. Judicial salaries would also jump and the lieutenant governor's pay would be slightly higher.
For the first year, the raises would cost the state $8 million, said Mark Ward, state budget director.
The raises were recommended by the Missouri Citizens Commission on Compensation, which was created by a 1994 constitutional amendment. The commission began meeting last spring and was charged with examining the need for compensation increases.
Rep. Larry Thomason, D-Kennett, sponsored the constitutional amendment, which was approved by 57 percent of the state's voters. However, Thomason said he will vote against the increase.
"I've never heard of anybody rejecting a raise, but we're going to do it," he said.
Thomason said he is only opposed to the legislative salary portion of the proposed increase, but it is not possible to just reject certain parts of the recommendation.
Despite his disproval, Thomason said the citizens commission approach is still a viable way to determine salaries.
"The fact that we're rejecting it shows that it works," he said.
On the Senate side, President Pro Tem William McKenna, D-Barnhart, said he probably would not vote for a resolution blocking the increase, assuming it goes through committee and reaches the floor for a vote.
"I'm leaning toward letting the pay increase to into effect," he said Wednesday.
If the resolutions do not make it to the floor, the raise will essentially be approved. However, House Majority Leader Gracia Backer, D-New Bloomfield, said she's confident votes will be taken.
"There's no stalling," she said. "There's no plan that I'm aware of for one body to pass it before the other."
Backer said supporters and opponents of the increase are not divided along party lines.
Smith agreed, saying, "It seems to be splitting along urban and rural lines."
At a press conference Thursday, Governor Mel Carnahan declined to offer his opinion on the increase. He said the state has not budgeted for the increase, but reserve money could cover the cost for the first year.
But Carnahan ultimately may have to take a position. The governor said it has just recently been suggested that a legislative-passed resolution to block the pay raises would require his approval to take effect, like bills.
Under that scenario, the governor's veto would let the pay raises take effect. But Carnahan declined what he would do if such a resolution landed on his desk.