Ballot wording

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Shall Article XIII, Section 3 of the Constitution be amended to require that legislators, statewide elected officials, and judges forfeit state pensions upon felony convictions, removal from office following impeachment or for misconduct, and to require that compensation for such persons be set by a citizens' commission subject to voter referendum?

That was the wording on the Nov. 7 ballot of Amendment 7. No wonder 84 percent of last month's voters approved the amendment. Who wouldn't want to cut off pensions for felons and impeached officeholders?

But the real purpose of the amendment was to make it harder to override the Citizens Commission on Compensation established by voters in 1994 as a way of protecting state legislators from having to increase their own salaries.

Even though the commission repeatedly recommended pay increases, legislators responded to the political heat and turned them down. Under Amendment 7, it would take a statewide referendum or a two-thirds vote of the legislature to reject the commission's recommendations.

Questions are being raised, a month after the election, about how ballot issues are worded. Would the changes in how salaries for judges, legislators and statewide officeholders have passed if the real intent had been clearer? Perhaps. But it would have required more of an education effort on the part of supporters of the change. And that would have been fairer to the state's taxpayers.

By the way, the compensation commission has already met and has recommended catch-up pay raises that appear to be in line with cost-of-living increases since 2000, the last time these officeholders received pay increases. Under the new amendment, it's likely the raises will show up in their paychecks.

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