3% pay raises proposed for General Assembly Lawmakers could reject panel's recommendation

November 26, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Maryland legislators will receive 3 percent pay raises in 1999 and in 2001 unless the General Assembly overrules a proposal approved yesterday by an independent commission.

If the recommendations of the General Assembly Compensation Commission are not blocked or altered by a joint resolution, the pay for delegates and senators will go from the current $29,700 to $30,591 in 1999 and to $31,509 in 2001.

The speaker of the House of Delegates and the president of the Senate would continue to earn $10,000 more than other legislators.

The nine-member commission, created by constitutional amendment in 1970, meets every four years to review the pay and benefits of General Assembly members. Legislators can reduce or turn down the proposed raises but cannot increase the panel's recommendation.

By doing nothing, they would in effect accept the raise. But they cannot collect until after they face the voters in the 1998 election.

Some legislators have said they will oppose the increase, but Assembly leaders predicted the relatively modest raises would sail through with minimal controversy.

Under the commission's proposal, the 188 members of Maryland's part-time legislature would receive raises in only two of the four years of their next term. There would be no increases in 2000 and 2002. The cost of the package over four years would be about $2 million.

Most Maryland legislators hold other jobs during the nine months each year the General Assembly is not in session. But many members keep up an active schedule of committee meetings through most of the year.

The commission acted after receiving a letter from House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller urging that it approve a "moderate" raise. They cited "increasing demands of the legislative process," including an increased number of committee meetings and studies between General Assembly sessions.

The two presiding officers did not specify a figure, but they called for an increase that did not exceed the projected overall raise for other state employees.

The commission's recommendation appears to meet that test. The administration is expected to propose an average 3.5 percent raise for state employees over each of the next two years.

Taylor said yesterday that the commission's recommendation seemed to be "in the ballpark."

"What you're talking about is a 1 1/2 percent annual increment, which is clearly below the inflation rate," the Cumberland Democrat said. "When you look at legislative compensation across the nation, I would say that our current level and the recommended level are both well within the mainstream."

Miller, a Prince George's Democrat, could not be reached for comment.

But Del. Michael W. Burns, an Anne Arundel County Republican, said he expects to join other delegates in sponsoring a resolution to freeze legislative salaries at the current level for four years.

"We're public officials; we're supposed to set an example," said Burns, one of the most conservative members of the House. "We should share a little of the pain."

Del. Robert H. Kittleman, the House minority leader, said he wants to get a sense of how his caucus feels about the recommendation before taking a position. However, he added that he couldn't find much fault with a raise of 1 1/2 percent a year.

"If it comes up for a vote, I might vote against it, but I'm not going to campaign against it," said Kittleman, a Howard Republican.

Taylor said he expects there will be attempts to block the pay raises, but he doubts they will succeed. "If history is a good teacher, I believe the commission's recommendations would merit ultimate support," he said.

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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