- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Maryland legislators would get a salary increase of $11,991 over the next four years under a pay plan recommended yesterday by the General Assembly Compensation Commission.

The plan would increase the pay from the $31,509 lawmakers now earn to $34,500 for the first year of the new term that begins in 2003. Salaries would increase by $3,000 a year each of the next three years to $43,500 in 2006.

The Senate president and House speaker, who now make $10,000 a year more than other lawmakers, would get $13,000 a year more, topping out at $56,500 in 2006.

"The bottom line is, we've pretty much fallen behind the cost of living," S. Nelson Weeks, chairman of the commission, said. The commission is made up of nine private citizens, five appointed by the governor and two each by the Senate president and House speaker.

Compensation packages approved in 1990, 1994 and 1998 increased salaries by $6,509 over 12 years.

"The raises have not kept up with other states, with employees' salaries or with the cost of living index. We felt that the time was right to make some adjustment," Mr. Weeks said.

The commission's recommendations on salaries, fringe benefits and pensions will be presented to the legislature in January.

Lawmakers can reduce the recommendations, but cannot increase them. If they do nothing, the plan will become law.

Sen. Barbara Hoffman, Baltimore Democrat, said she thinks the proposed salary levels are fair.

"I know that some people will look at this and say, 'What do they do? They only work 90 days,' " said Mrs. Hoffman, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "People who think we only work 90 days haven't interacted much with the legislature."

Mrs. Hoffman said this is not the best year to be considering pay raises because of the state's fiscal problems. But she said the plan must be considered this year because the constitution prohibits lawmakers from voting on pay increases except once every four years before an election.

Senate Minority Whip Larry Haines, Carroll County Republican, said pay raises for legislators, like all state government expenses, should be limited to the increase in personal income of Maryland residents.

He said he would have to analyze the salary recommendations before taking a position on the recommendation, but would vote to reduce the pay increases if they exceed personal-income growth.

House Minority Leader Robert Kittleman, Howard County Republican, said he thinks the recommended pay increase is too much.

If salaries get too high, they will lead to a full-time legislature, he said. "You wouldn't have the same independence and the ability to do what is right" as exists under a part-time General Assembly, he said.

Mr. Kittleman said he would have to talk to other Republicans in the House before deciding what position the Republican caucus will take when the legislative session begins Jan. 9.

In addition to the salary proposal, the commission also recommended small increases in some travel, food and lodging allowances. But it did not recommend any changes in the legislative retirement system.

"I think some legislators might take some political static, but they didn't do it, we did," Mr. Weeks said. "We did it because we want a good legislature. We think they are entitled to fair compensation."

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