ANNAPOLIS – Maryland legislators should receive a 38 percent raise in their salaries over a four-year period starting in January 2003, the General Assembly Compensation Commission recommended Thursday.
Lawmakers’ pay would rise from $31,509 to $34,500 in 2003, and then increase by $3,000 every year through 2006, under the panel’s proposal. The issue needs approval by the General Assembly.
The commission, made up of nine private citizens appointed by the governor, Senate president and House speaker, considered extensive data ranging from the Consumer Price Index to salaries in other state legislatures before recommending the raise, said Chairman S. Nelson Weeks.
“They need $3,000 now just to bring them even,” said Weeks, noting that legislators have not had a raise in two years.
Two delegates testified before the panel in favor of a raise.
“Some of my colleagues were very reluctant to come and speak,” said Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, before listing the growing demands on legislators’ time and budgets.
The commission laughed after Forehand said she recently spoke to a group of Girl Scouts about jobs, and, after answering a question about her salary, one girl asked: “Does that mean you get food stamps?”
Lawmakers might not be that cash strapped, but Delegate Kenneth Montague Jr., D-Baltimore, said he was concerned about the future of the Legislature.
“If we don’t do something in terms of making sure we can attract and maintain a broad spectrum of legislators . . . we will see a divide along economic lines” of those who can afford to serve, Montague said.
Montague said he sees a value in the citizen legislature that brings real world experience to the political process.
“It’s a balance between adding expertise to policy and maintaining government responsiveness to constituents,” said Bill Wyatt, spokesman for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Raising legislator salaries tends to be a touchy political issue especially when so many states are facing budget shortfalls, Wyatt said.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening has already ordered $205 million in cuts over the next two years and more are expected after December revenue estimates are released.
“It has the potential to become an election issue if it is not passed with broad bipartisan support,” said Paul Herrnson, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland. Herrnson supports raising legislator salaries to a fair level that reflects the demands on their time.
Some legislators worry that if the salary grows too much, lawmakers will not need to work in the private sector and the citizen legislature will be lost.
“I think it’s probably too much,” said Delegate Robert Kittleman, R- Howard. “I want to keep the legislature part-time.”
Maryland ranks sixth in the country among part-time legislatures for its lawmaker compensation.
In spite of the predicted budget wrangling in a session when difficult cuts are expected, Kittleman said: “Generally it (salary increase) gets full support and there’s no argument.”