- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

ANNAPOLIS House Democrats yesterday blocked debate on a plan to increase salaries for state legislators, ensuring that the 188 senators and delegates elected in November will get pay raises of $11,991 during the next four years.

Every four years, a salary commission submits a pay plan for lawmakers. It takes effect unless the General Assembly reduces or rejects it.

A move by Republican leaders to bring the proposal up for a House vote was rejected on a 93-41 roll call after a debate, during which Republicans said the legislature should not accept a pay raise in tight budget times. The House yesterday and the Senate last week approved the state's $22 billion budget, which includes a 2 percent income-tax cut that Gov. Parris N. Glendening had wanted to delay.

Democratic leaders responded that salaries for lawmakers can be increased only once every four years before a new General Assembly is elected and that a raise is justified.

Minority Whip James F. Ports Jr., Baltimore County Republican, chided Democrats for refusing to allow the House to debate the issue and decide whether the salaries should be increased.

"We've skirted our responsibilities so we would not have to make that difficult decision," Mr. Ports said. "I would say the citizens of Maryland desire to see how we vote."

Democratic Majority Leader Maggie L. McIntosh of Baltimore said state employees have received an average pay increase of more than 16 percent over the past four years. During that time, legislative salaries increased 6 percent, she said.

"There is only one opportunity every four years for us to get an increase," Miss McIntosh said.

"We have treated state employees the last four years very, very fairly," she said. She predicted pay raises for state workers will resume when the economy picks up, maybe next year.

Legislators make $31,509 a year, except for the Senate president and House speaker, who are paid $41,509. The new salaries will top out at $43,500 in 2006. The president and speaker each will receive $56,500.

Compensation packages approved in 1990, 1994 and 1998 increased salaries by $6,509 over 12 years. House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany Democrat, said legislative pay has not kept pace with annual increases in the cost of living.

But Mr. Ports said Maryland senators and delegates have the 15th-highest salary scales in the nation, including full-time legislatures, and will jump to ninth under the new plan. Among part-time legislatures, Maryland will rank third-highest, he said.

Mr. Taylor said the decision could hurt some Democrats in the November election.

"There is always a political risk that's involved any time you make a partisan issue out of it," he said.

"Republicans want the salary increase, but they don't want to have to vote for it," he said.

Miss McIntosh said lawmakers do not have to accept the pay increases if they don't want to.

Delegate Richard D'Amato, Anne Arundel Democrat, said if he is re-elected, he will not take the increase until state employees get a cost-of-living raise. In the meantime, he will put the additional money into the House of Delegates scholarship program.


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