Salary commission will meet Wednesday to make final decision
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Salary commission will meet Wednesday to make final decision

Date: November 27, 2006
By: Rachel Higginbotham
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Just three weeks after Missourians voted to make it harder for legislators to reject pay raises for state officials, the state's Salary Commission is scheduled to vote on a new pay plan.

And the chairman of the commission, Jack Pohrer, says he thinks the commission will approve a pay raise recommendation for judges.

"I can't speak on behalf of the entire commission, but speaking for myself, I can't imagine that we wouldn't recommend a pay raise," he said. "These people [judges] haven't gotten a pay raise in 6 years. In my mind, it just stands to reason."

According to the Missouri Constitution, the commission is supposed to meet four times per year in order to make a recommendation for salary increases for state officials and judges. The deadline to publish any recommendations in December 1.

It was not until this fall with Amendment 7 on the ballot that the push started  for a pay-raise effort.

With repeated legislative rejections of pay raise recommendations, the Salary Commission had not met since 2000.  And governors simply appoint new members to the commission.

But Amendment 7, approved by the voters, makes it more difficult for the legislature to reject the commission's proposals -- requiring a two-thirds vote rather than a majority for rejection. 

Just one week before the election, Gov. Matt Blunt began filling the commission vacancies.  With enough members to conduct business, the commission has met three times in the past week: once on November 20 in Jefferson City, and twice on Monday in St. Louis and Cape Girardeau.

Amendment 7 to the state constitution prohibits pay raises for elected officials from going into effect until 2009, but there is no limitation on judicial pay raises. For this reason, the meetings have been centered around judicial pay raises, said commission member Herbert Dill.

The meetings are open to the public, and some opponents have taken the opportunity to voice their concerns.

"I'm not opposed to judicial pay raises," said Rep. Paul LeVota (D-Jackson County), who attended the November 20 meeting. LeVota said he had even worked on a committee last legislative session to pass a pay increase. "I just think they're [the commission] on an impossible time line."

LeVota said his opposition was prompted by the fact that the commission is still short three members, and that not all of the members have shown up to the meetings.

"I'm not sure why they didn't start meeting earlier, or why they didn't start appointing members earlier," LeVota said. "This seems like an impossible task, especially when it comes to something as important as spending taxpayer dollars."

But Dill said he didn't think the process was being rushed at all.

"We have an extraordinary amount of information that's been compiled, and we've been working with former commission members on this issue," Dill said.

"I think we'll be able to make a fair decision on this," he added.

Other commission members didn't have quite as much information as Dill.

"The only thing I know about this is where the meetings are, and the number that I can call in for the conference call," said commission member Pat Barr. "This is all on pretty short notice. I don't have any other information."

Pohrer said that he didn't think it would be difficult for the commission to reach a decision quickly.

"We're on a deadline," he said. "And, I mean, this isn't brain surgery."