Politics blog

Sen. Hill offers a few more ideas for shorter legislative sessions

OlympianJanuary 7, 2014 

Republican Sen. Andy Hill has a few more suggestions for the Legislature to consider in moving to more timely completion of legislative sessions, including a constitutional amendment affecting lawmakers’ pay. Hill, a first-term lawmaker from Redmond who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, put out his latest installment of his "Windows Into The Budget" commentary, which features three ideas to encourage quicker sessions.

His proposals grow out of last year’s marathon sessions that ran into late June and forced Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee to prepare for a government shutdown – which would have occurred if no agreement on funding government was reached by June 30. Hill’s budget paper glosses over the role his Majority Coalition Caucus had in the stalemate, which he describes as a black mark on the process. But he also did not blame the rival House Democrats. 

One of his new ideas is to change the Washington state Constitution so lawmakers can’t get pay raises if they don’t finish work on a two-year budget during odd-numbered years – when session runs 105 days. Lawmakers don’t set their pay currently, ever since the constitution was amended to give the job exclusively to a citizen commission, so the constitution would need to be changed to allow a change in the pay rules.

Another new idea is to bar lawmakers from raising funds for campaigns until a budget is written. Current law freezes all fundraising from 30 days prior to a session’s start until its end. But a few years back the Legislature repealed the voter-approved provision that also froze fundraising for 30 days after adjournment. Under current law lawmakers are able to raise money the moment session ends – which last year meant they were raising cash during a two-week break between the end of the 105-day regular session and the first special session called by Inslee.

Hill’s third idea is to move the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council’s quarterly forecast from March to February during odd-numbered years. Lawmakers already get a February forecast (it’s Feb. 19 this year) during even-numbered years when the Legislature is meeting for just 60 days.

Hill proposed this same idea last year, and Senate Bill 5910 passed two times in the Senate on unanimous votes, only to die in the Democrat-controlled House. This is how we described his plan in a story last year. 

The two newer ideas may be harder to pass. The pay raise idea has populist appeal – tapping into the voter anger that crops up any time sessions go long – but it is offered in a year Hill faces re-election and will be a Democratic target, which might make it harder to pass. 

Many voters don’t know this. But the state Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials sets pay for judges, legislators and statewide holders of state government offices such as governor. Voters locked that rule into the Constitution by approving an amendment in 1986 to take pay authority away from lawmakers.

The commission’s work cannot be altered, which is why Hill’s Republican predecessor on the Senate Ways and Means Committee had also considered a constitutional amendment when pay complaints were flying in 2011. 

Of course, the Legislature didn’t get a pay raise last year and lawmakers won't be getting a pay raise in 2014. The commission agreed last year not to give any in the current two-year cycle, which makes 2014 the sixth straight year lawmakers are going without one.

That leaves pay for rank-and-file members like Hill at $42,106 per year, while top leaders in the House and Senate majority caucuses earn $50,106 and top leaders in the minority caucuses earn $46,106. Lawmakers also receive $90 daily expense stipends, called per diem, while in session and can seek reimbursement for some office, printing, postage and travel costs.

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