State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo

State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo

Politicians get pay raises, state workers get furloughs

A citizens panel approved the hikes in 2019. Unable to rescind them, lawmakers look to donate their extra earnings.

OLYMPIA — As state workers contend with furloughs and wage freezes, their elected bosses got raises Wednesday — and now want to give back or give away the extra earnings.

A year ago, an independent panel agreed on salary boosts for state lawmakers, the governor, eight other statewide executives and hundreds of judges.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, dousing the state’s roaring economy, driving thousands out of work and opening a multibillion-dollar hole in the state budget.

Gov. Jay Inslee canceled a 3% raise set to take effect July 1 for directors of his cabinet agencies and some managers. Employees, union and non-represented did get a raise but must take several days of furlough by year’s end.

Meanwhile, leaders of the House and Senate, in separate actions, suspended pay hikes scheduled July 1 for hundreds of legislative staff. Collectively, those moves by the legislative and executive branches are expected to save roughly $58 million.

Those elected leaders can’t turn salary hikes down. State law doesn’t allow it.

“You can’t feel good about yourself getting a pay raise,’ said Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley. “As much as I’d like to have the money, you’ve got to admit it’s egregious for us to get a raise when so many people have been hurt in this pandemic.”

Wagoner plans to donate the additional $4,115 he’ll earn this year to Rotary Clubs in Arlington, Monroe and his hometown. He said he wants the money to stay in his legislative district.

Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, a former union leader, said “it doesn’t seem right to take the increase” as employees are forced to sacrifice amid an economic downturn.

“I don’t plan on taking the increase. The question is how and what is the right way” to dispense with it, he said.

Adjustments to the level of pay of elected members of the state’s executive, legislative and judicial branches are considered every two years by the Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. Members include a resident randomly selected from each of the state’s 10 congressional districts, plus representatives from business, organized labor, higher education, the legal world and human resources.

Voters established the commission in 1987 to prevent politicians from deciding their own pay. Its work is funded with state tax dollars but the commission operates independently of the three branches of state government.

In February 2019, the panel approved salary changes to take effect July 1, 2019, and on Wednesday. They boosted the base pay of elected positions and, on top of that, added a 2% cost-of-living adjustment each year.

Lawmakers are now earning $56,881, a nearly 8% bump. Leaders of the four caucuses will continue to earn more because they receive a stipend for responsibilities.

These increases have been a subject of conversation among legislators for some time. In April, 40 Republican and Democratic legislators, representing both chambers, asked the salary commission to hold a special meeting to cancel the increases.

“Simply put, the world is greatly changed from a year ago when these scheduled salary increases were put in place,” they wrote. “At a time when so many are unemployed, it makes no sense for elected officials to be granted a raise. The foregoing of scheduled increases would allow the savings to be directed to higher and better priorities of protecting programs for the most needy in our state.”

Rep. Dave Paul, D-Oak Harbor, doesn’t want to keep the raise, but it might be necessary. He works for Skagit Valley College. His wife works for Western Washington University. Both institutions are cutting jobs.

“If my wife and I do not get laid off, I will donate part or all of it to charity or figure out how to get it to the treasury,” Paul said. And when the Legislature meets in special session, he said, he’ll support efforts to repeal the increase.

Inslee, who is seeking a third term, will make $187,353, up from $182,179 last year. He plans to donate to charities, a spokeswoman said.

Similarly, Attorney General Bob Ferguson will distribute his raise to nonprofits, charities and religious institutions. He and his wife will make a decision as a family regarding the specific recipients, according to a spokeswoman.

Treasurer Duane Davidson said he will steer his into the state Budget Stabilization Account, better known as the rainy day fund.

“I want to emphasize the importance of the rainy day fund,” he said in an email. “We need to pay attention, it is crucial for the financial health of the state that we save in the good times for the bad times.”

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz will direct her scheduled increase, roughly $7,100, to a pair of food banks, Northwest Harvest and Second Harvest.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman said she plans to write a check every pay period to the state treasury as “a very small way” to help the state during this challenging time.

Last month, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler announced he will give his extra earnings to the Thurston County Food Bank, and Auditor Pat McCarthy said she will send hers to The Other Bank, a nonprofit which provides personal hygiene and cleaning items to low-income people.

The citizens commission will meet in September to begin setting salary schedules for the next two-year state budget.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@valleyrecord.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.valleyrecord.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

One survey conducted by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development found students who eat free breakfasts at school had 17.5 percent higher scores on math tests. File photo
SVSD distributes tens of thousands of extra meals amid pandemic

Congress hasn’t renewed the program, which provided twice as many student meals for free last spring.

Living Snoqualmie founder hired as North Bend PIO

Living Snoqualmie editor and writer Danna McCall has been hired by the… Continue reading

A photo of the carousel with horses. Contributed by North Bend Art and Industry
Historic carousel arrives in North Bend for planned Center for Art

The carousel will be the centerpiece for the planned regional arts center.

The Enumclaw Health and Rehabilitation Center, which is located by St. Elizabeth hospital, a senior living community, and a nursing home. File photo
Inslee lifts visitation ban at long-term care facilities

Starting Wednesday, a four-phase plan will allow restrictions at nursing homes to gradually be relaxed.

Screenshot from Gov. Jay Inslee’s press conference on Aug. 5, 2020.
Inslee says schools in virus hot spots should stay closed

King County among high-risk counties; several school districts will have remote learning in the fall.

King County Election headquarters in Renton on Aug. 4 for the primary election. Haley Ausbun/staff photo
Inslee and Culp lead governor race; incumbent Dems ahead for Congress | Statewide results

Early results for governor, state schools chief, attorney general and more.

Photo courtesy of Snoqualmie Pass Fire and Rescue.
Snoqualmie Pass Fire and Rescue charge renewal is passing

The Snoqualmie Pass Fire and Rescue benefit charge is passing with 100%… Continue reading

Democrats dominate King County legislative races | Election results

Here are the latest results for King County legislative candidates in the… Continue reading

Vote election badge. File photo
5th District results: Ramos leads House race; Anderson edging Mullett for state Senate

Early results have been reported in the 5th Legislative District races from… Continue reading

Most Read