How are Washington state lawmakers getting an 11% pay increase?

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OLYMPIA -- Despite no progress on hammering out a new state budget, all lawmakers in Olympia will get a big pay hike starting in September.

The raise will give state senators and state representatives 11% more in pay over the next two years.

Many teachers and state workers argue this is unfair, given that their pay has stalled in recent years.

The timing for these legislative pay hikes is bad, to say the least.  Lawmakers have been held in contempt by the state Supreme Court for not fully funding public schools, and have been fighting with each other for months over the state budget.

So, how can a pay hike be happening now?

Salaries for state elected officials are set by an independent commission, and on Wednesday the commission voted to raise lawmakers' pay for the first time since 2008.

“Washington is falling further and further behind” said Teri Wright, director of the Washington Citizen’s Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials.

Wright said the 17-member body looked at what other states pay their lawmakers and looked at comparable jobs in Washington.  Without more pay, Wright says, “only those who are independently wealthy will run for office.”

State lawmaker jobs are considered part-time, since members only meet in session for a few months, but are expected to meet with constituents and attend committee meetings and functions throughout the year.

Here are the numbers:

State Legislator Pay Hike

  • 2014: $42,106
  • 2016: $46,839
  • 11% increase

Also getting a pay increase will be all statewide elected officials, including the governor.

Governor’s Pay Hike

  • 2014: $166,891
  • 2016: $173,617
  • 4% increase

As least one lawmaker is pushing back.

“It’s irresponsible to accept a pay increase,” said Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island.  “As a state lawmaker tasked with reforming education, I want to stand in solidarity with the education community and prioritize funding education ahead of lawmaker raises.”

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