“Bloated” is a negative word often associated in today’s political climate with salaries, governments and egos. Wouldn’t it be amazing to discover that a small, highly efficient commission exists to ensure our state elected officials’ salaries are not bloated?
Furthermore, would it not be a revelation to learn that this group is comprised of unpaid citizens with no political ambitions or personal agendas other than ensuring the mandate of our state Constitution is followed?
In 1987, the Constitution was amended by voters to remove salary setting for elected officials from the hands of the Legislature and make it the responsibility of an independent citizens’ commission.
The Washington Citizens Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials (WCCSEO) is made up of 17 individuals. Seven are selected for their expertise in various professions – the law, education, human resources, business and organized labor. Ten are selected at random from the state’s congressional districts – one per district
Every other year the commission gathers for an intensive series of meetings during which members learn about the functional responsibilities of each elected official. We then study the results of the Willis Point-Factor Evaluation System, a private-sector measurement tool used by the state in determining the value of executive and managerial positions.
The commission also examines other appropriate benchmarks including the salaries of appointed agency heads, the salaries of comparable public positions in and outside Washington, as well as current and future projected economic factors. Currently 587 elected officials are affected by our decisions.
The intent – and the current practice – is “to base salaries of elected state officials on realistic standards in order that such officials may be paid according to the duties of their offices and so that citizens of the highest quality may be attracted to public service.” Although the goal is easy to understand, this principle is often more difficult to implement with the full understanding of Washington citizens.
Unfortunately, the WCCSEO is in jeopardy of not fulfilling its mandated responsibilities due to a series of budget cuts that began in 2008, resulting in a 19-percent reduction through the last biennium. A small commission like ours is unable to transfer funds from other operational areas that may be available to larger organizations. Staffing has been reduced to one part-time person with no backup.
The lifeblood of this commission is timely and accurate information. Funds to provide for public hearings; funds to reimburse commissioners and staff for required travel; funds to update our website – all of these are lacking.
Our objective is to ensure citizens’ tax dollars are spent wisely and that public funds are protected from political influence. So where are we today? Based on the above, we are now uncertain what the future of the commission holds. One solution might be a separate funding source.
While some may not support the salary decisions made by the commission, the reality is that they are based on current defensible data and not on political preferences or whims. Rarely does one see such respectful and objective deliberation in a group with such a wide diversity of perspectives.
Is the word “bloated” applicable to this simple, efficient and cost-effective little non-political group? Not even close!
Dick Walter of Olympia is the owner of a small business consulting firm and has served on the Washington Citizens Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials since 2010.