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Pay hikes go into effect unless senators pass resolution today

Senate skipped vote Wednesday on rejecting own raises January 29, 2015 at 4:47 a.m. | Updated January 29, 2015 at 4:47 a.m.

Unless state Sen. Rob Schaaf changes his mind and makes another attempt this morning to get a Senate vote, Missouri's senators have allowed pay raises for lawmakers and the six statewide elected officials to go into effect because they took no vote on Wednesday.

Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, told reporters late Wednesday morning he had no plans to seek another vote on the House-passed resolution rejecting the raises, after Senate Democrats Maria Chappelle-Nadal, University City, and Jason Holsman, Kansas City, spent about an hour talking in favor of raises and how they might affect future legislatures.

"I wanted them to take ownership of this," Schaaf said. "They are the ones who are stopping us from turning back this pay raise."

But state Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said the Senate's failure to take a vote Wednesday was "absolutely insanity. There's no way on God's green earth that there should be any elected officials - from the governor on down - who should be wanting a pay raise when we have state employees at the lack of compensation that we have them, right now."

Missouri government employees' salaries currently are last in the nation when compared with their counterparts in other states' governments.

Kehoe and freshman Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, both said they intended to talk with Schaaf on Wednesday afternoon, to get the resolution back on the floor.

"I'm going to be having conversations with some of the folks who seem to want the pay raise," Kehoe pledged, "to make sure they understand what the message is that they're sending to state employees."

In November, the Missouri Citizen's Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials submitted its proposed raises for the next two business years, beginning July 1. State law requires the commission to meet every two years and recommend a pay scale for lawmakers, statewide elected officials and judges.

The salary commission's 19-page report proposed $4,000 more a year for legislators - who now earn $35,915 a year.

The commission proposed raises of 8-to 10-percent for the statewide elected officials - governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and attorney general.

The governor's pay would climb more than $22,000 a year, to $156,088.

"This Commission believes that the elected officials of our state in the executive and legislative branches should now be given due compensation for their commitment to public service," the panel reported.

The Constitution requires the proposed pay raises to go into effect - unless two-thirds of the members in each house vote to reject them, no later than Feb. 1, which is Sunday.

State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, sponsored the rejection resolution, which needed at least 109 House votes and cleared the House last week by a 133-15 margin.

"Missouri legislators are already the 16th highest paid in the country," Barnes told the News Tribune Wednesday afternoon. "Keeping salaries moderate ensures we keep a true citizen legislature, not a body of career politicians."

But the two Democrats who led Wednesday's mini-filibuster against the Senate vote disagreed.

"While we are in session five months of the year, or a little bit less than that, the rest of the work that many of us do is, still, full-time and goes on all year long," Chappelle-Nadal said.

Holsman noted the debate "is not an easy issue," partly because politicians have low public approval levels.

"It's not a politically wise decision to go on-record saying you want to raise your own pay (and) it's never been a wise idea," Holsman said. "While we're temporary seat-holders of this position, the offices will continue to exist long after we leave this chamber.

"So the question is: Is the policy decision we're making today (a) political decision of what we think is in the best interests of our own careers, or are we making a decision of what's in the best interests of the state in recruiting people for this (lawmaking) job?"

Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, said he would have voted against Barnes' resolution and for increasing the pay.

"I think it's important that we continue to recruit high quality legislators," he said. "I've had many people from my district interested - and, when they find out the pay, they say, "I just can't afford to go up there. I don't mind the sacrifice or the family separation, but I have to be able to live on what I have, and that (pay is) just not enough.'"

Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, would vote against the raises, if given a chance to vote.

He understands - and agrees with - the concerns of Barnes, Kehoe, Riddle and other Mid-Missouri lawmakers that state employees need a raise more than the elected officials.

"I suspect you would find some lawmakers from parts of the state who have virtually no state employees and, for them, it's probably much lower on the scale," Schaefer said.


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