Bills would restrict lawmaker raises, fundraising if budget is delayed

Staff writerJanuary 16, 2014 

A state Senate panel approved three measures Wednesday aimed at preventing prolonged special sessions of the Legislature, but not without some objections from minority Democrats.

One proposal from Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, aims to pressure lawmakers to complete a budget more quickly by restricting their ability to raise campaign funds during legislative breaks if no budget has been passed.

Another bill introduced by Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, would amend the state constitution to deny lawmakers raises in years that they don’t pass a biennial budget within 105 days.

Meanwhile, a third proposal would move up the state’s quarterly revenue forecast from March to February in budget-writing years to give lawmakers more time to work with those numbers.

All three measures received majority approval Wednesday from the Senate Ways & Means Committee, which Hill chairs.

In 2013, the Legislature took until late June to pass a budget, requiring two special sessions and bringing the state close to a government shutdown.

Hill said that lawmakers’ six-month mega-session last year didn’t benefit anyone.

“We can do a better job,” Hill said. “It is hoped these measures will help us get done on time.”

Lawmakers already are barred from raising campaign funds while the Legislature is in session, but last year Gov. Jay Inslee allowed a break between special sessions that allowed lawmakers to fundraise for two weeks in spring.

Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said Democratic senators are supportive of Hill’s proposal to move up the revenue forecast. The Senate unanimously passed the legislation last year.

But Hargrove said Hill’s idea to withhold lawmaker salary increases wouldn’t be much of an incentive for some wealthy members who don’t rely on their legislative income to get by.

Hargrove had joked in committee Tuesday that maybe there should be a “means test” in the plan to deny lawmakers raises, commenting about Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom: “Rodney’s shirt is worth more than my house.”

Rank-and-file legislators now make $42,106 annually. The Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials, which sets lawmakers’ salaries, hasn’t approved an increase for legislators since 2008.

“We have wildly different circumstances when it comes to the Legislature,” Hargrove said. “If you’re going to use a salary increase as an incentive to try to get a budget on time, it’s not going to affect everyone the same way.”

Some Democratic members of Hill’s committee also objected to language that would apply the proposed between-session campaign fundraising restrictions to the governor. Fain's proposal would also prevent the governor from raising campaign funds during the 20 days after the Legislature adjourns, when the governor has veto power over legislation.

The legislation would still need to be approved by the full Senate and the House before having a chance of becoming law.

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