Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Legislative leaders move to block elected official raises

 Legislative leaders on Wednesday filed a resolution to reject a proposed six percent pay raise for judges and statewide elected officials.

The measure, House Joint Resolution 1093, is authored by House Speaker Kris Steele, Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, House Minority Leader Scott Inman and Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage.

The Board on Judicial Compensation last September approved a six percent pay raise for judges. Statewide elected official salaries are based on judicial salaries, so the judicial pay raise would also increase the salary of all statewide elected officials by six percent.

Steele, R-Shawnee, in October publicly opposed the judicial pay raise and urged the Legislative Compensation Board to leave legislative salaries unchanged, which it did.

“I said it in October and I say it now: This is not the time for raises. Once session starts, we’re putting a stop to it,” Steele said. “Oklahoma is still coming out of a recession. State revenues are rebounding, but certainly not enough to justify raising the salaries of elected officials. As good stewards of the taxpayer dollar, we cannot in good faith allow these raises to occur.”

Bingman, R-Sapulpa, praised the resolution as an exercise in common-sense fiscal responsibility.

“We may not agree on every issue out here, but we all agree these raises are the wrong move at the wrong time,” Bingman said. “Let me be clear: Our justices serve Oklahoma with great distinction, and neither they nor our statewide office holders asked for a raise. But we know our priority this session needs to be growing the economy and reducing the size and scope of government.”

Inman, D-Del City, said the state needs to focus on funding core services of government.

“When state employees haven’t seen a raise in six years, when education has seen 10 percent budget reductions, and when our roads and bridges are crumbling, the taxpayers’ dollars should be spent on meeting Oklahoma’s pressing needs. Allowing $350,000 in pay raises is simply not the fiscally responsible thing to do at this time,” Inman said.

Burrage, D-Claremore, said he expects the Senate Democrat Caucus to support the resolution.

“We must compensate our judiciary at a level that attracts high-quality attorneys to the bench. That being said, in light of the current budgetary situation, this is not the year for pay raises for elected officials,” Burrage said. “As our revenues continue to grow I am hopeful the issue can be revisited in an upcoming year.”

If passed by both legislative chambers, HJR 1093 would reject the Board of Judicial Compensation’s vote and pay would remain the same for all statewide elected officials.

Under Title 20, Section 3.2, the Legislature can nullify the board’s actions upon a majority vote of each chamber.

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