Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Don't Change Rules on Salary Package

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Don't Change Rules on Salary Package

Article excerpt

One down, one to go. Acting with admirable speed, the Missouri House has voted down overly generous pay raises for legislators and judges that had been recommended by the Missouri Citizens' Commission on Compensation. Similar action by the Missouri Senate should follow, on an identically worded measure, before the Feb. 1 deadline required by a constitutional amendment.

Now, however, a new wrinkle has been added. Instead of interpreting the recommendations of the commission as a definite list of what the salaries in question should be, forces in the Senate are considering them to be ceilings. They reason that because the amendment that governs the compensation process says that new salaries would go into effect "subject to appropriations," the last word belongs to the Legislature, not the commission. Lawmakers could not set salaries higher than the recommendations, this view says, but they do not have to fund the full value of the recommendations, either.

Such reasoning certainly is curious. When the amendment was approved in 1994, its backers campaigned for passage by emphasizing the fact that it would take the level of salaries for legislators and other state officials out of the hands of the Legislature. Even though the wording about appropriations was there all the time, it was never highlighted during the campaign for the amendment or, once the amendment was passed, during the hearings held by the compensation commission. Only now, when the proposed salary increases have raised public anger and been rejected by the House, is this creative interpretation coming into play. Its proponents say that considering the commission's recommendations to be ceilings answers the main objections of critics of the pay proposals: first, that the levels are too high, and second, that the Legislature can let them go into effect by what amounts to remote control. Had this view of the amendment been part of the understanding from the start, those arguments may carry some weight. But those who want to see the pay raises take effect shouldn't be able to, in effect, contort the rules in the middle of the game and subvert what almost everyone understood to be the main intent of the amendment. …

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