Breakdown on pay

Sunday, December 26, 2004

In 1994, Missouri's voters approved a constitutional amendment that established the 22-member Missouri Citizens Commission on Compensation. The amendment mandated that the commission would meet every two years and recommend salaries for elected officials and judges. Unless the Missouri General Assembly, which used to set salaries through the budget process, rejected the recommendations, the pay plans devised by the commission would automatically take effect.

Legislators quickly saw that the commission wasn't a good idea. For one thing, the commission proposed huge increases in pay for some elected officials -- embarrassingly huge, unfortunately.

By 2000, clearer heads in the legislature managed to get another amendment on the ballot that would have restricted the commission's authority. With little fanfare, the amendment was soundly defeated, leaving the commission with its original obligations.

2000 was also the year when the commission's recommendations automatically went into effect. But the legislature, reverting to its former role in these matters, refused to appropriate the funding to pay for the salary increases. In the 2002 cycle of salary reviews, the commission's recommendations were rejected by the legislature.

This year, no one even bothered to appoint the commission members, even though this isn't a constitutional option. Thus the Dec. 1 deadline for making recommendations passed by with no action whatsoever.

This is not a good way to run state government. Ignoring the state's constitution should raise serious questions, even though there has been no outcry around the state. As a matter of fact, the news that the commission has been neglected has barely been reported except for a story recently in the Southeast Missourian.

The commission was a bad idea from the start. Voters were swayed by a sense that the commission would be fairer and provide an orderly process for pay increases. But it doesn't work well when the commission makes recommendations that fail to take into account competitive pay rates for non-government jobs or the state's financial situation.

These are matters best left to the legislature -- even if it's a hot potato.

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