By KRISSAH WILLIAMS
Capital News Service
The governor's salary will also rise from $120,000 to $150,000.
That increase would put the state's legislative and gubernatorial salaries among the highest in the country.
Still they all make substantially less than the highest-paid state employees, who garner salaries of more than $300,000. But legislative pay will be more than most rank-and-file state employees make. The average state salary is less than $40,000, according to the Department of Management and Budget.
Lawmakers and executive branch officials were the only state employees to receive across-the-board raises this year. Other employees _ from judges to janitors _ were denied requested increases.
Legislators defend the increases, which they passed despite a large budget deficit. Legally, they had to implement the raises this year or forgo a pay hike until 2006 because legislative and executive branch salaries can be increased only in election years.
``Maryland has fallen way behind in their compensation to their legislature,'' said Del. Maggie McIntosh of Tuscany-Canterbury. Four years is too long to wait, she said.
But the timing of the increase is awkward. Legislators prepare to face voters after spending months wrangling over the state budget, cutting state services and searching for new revenue sources.
``We think it is obscene (for lawmakers) to grant themselves increases at a time of deficit ... and at a time when state revenues are constricting,'' said Kenneth R. Timmerman, president of the Maryland Taxpayers' Association.
Raising salaries at such a time could have negative political implications in the coming election. Lawmakers, however, can partially shield themselves from having to take responsibility for the magnitude of the raise.
The state Constitution mandates an independent compensation commission recommend salary increases for lawmakers and executive branch officials every four years. The salaries are enacted automatically unless the General Assembly passes a resolution reducing or rejecting the raises.
Along with General Assembly members and the governor, a compensation commission recommended raises for Assembly leaders and other executive officers.
The lieutenant governor's $100,000 annual salary will increase to $125,000 over the next four years. The Senate president and House Speaker's salaries will increase from $41,509 to $56,500.
The legislative raises were derived from an exhaustive study done by the nine-member General Assembly Compensation Commission, said Commission Chairman S. Nelson Weeks.
``We felt that our General Assembly has not stayed up with general assemblies for other states,'' Weeks said. ``It was appropriate to bring our Legislature in line with legislatures in other states.''
Nationally, Marylanders will have the ninth-highest-paid state legislature _ following California's legislature, which meets full-time and is paid $99,000.
Lawmaker salaries vary widely. Legislators in neighboring Virginia meet for 60 days and earn about $18,000 a year. Massachusetts lawmakers meet year-round and earn $50,000 a year. Delaware legislators earn $33,400 for six months of full-time work.
Lawmakers allowed the increases to pass with little debate. Republican members of the House and Senate introduced resolutions to reject pay raises, but they were overwhelmingly defeated in both chambers.
We have ``skirted our responsibility,'' said Del. Jim Ports of Perry Hall. ``The citizens of Maryland deserve to know how we vote.''
Resolutions, such as the one offered by Ports, have routinely died since the salary system was created in 1970. Members have fully accepted every increase ever proposed.
Lawmakers and high-ranking state officials were among the few state employees who received the salary boost. Along with the majority of state employees, judges were denied a 5% raise.
Rank-and-file state employees were denied a 2 percent cost-of-living pay increase.
Workers are quick to point out that lawmakers will be paid more than the average full-time state employee for their part-time lawmaking jobs when their full increase takes affect.
On average, state employees make $39,000 for 12 months of work. Lawmakers, who work full-time jobs in addition to their legislative service, will be paid more than that for their three months of full-time work.
Lawmakers also have meetings outside of session and represent their constituents throughout the year.
The large legislative raises, without an increase for state employees, has angered many, said George Myers, president of the Maryland Professional Employees Council, a union representing 5,000 state employees.
Workers said they understand the economic constraints of the national recession gripping the state, which is why they only asked for a 2 percent pay increase.
``People still have to live,'' he said.
Lawmakers said state employees have been treated fairly and raises may be considered next year. State employee salaries increased seven times with 10 merit increases in the last 12 years. Legislators got only six salary increases in the same time, according to the commission report.
``In the aggregate, state employees have done very well getting increases in good times,'' said Del. Pete Rawlings of Baltimore. ``I'm making this decision (to raise legislative salaries) based upon what I see as a very fair analytical process.''
In years past, the compensation commission, appointed by the governor and House and Senate leaders, has not been so generous to lawmakers.
The commission looked at the amount of time lawmakers spend on legislative duties, estimated how much money highly educated legislators lose by working in the public sector, and compared Maryland's pay to other states.
This pay raise is the largest increase the commission has ever recommended. Legislative pay rose from $29,700 in 1998 to $31,509 in 2002, up 6.1 percent. Inflation rose 10.4% during the same time, according to the Consumer Price Index.
Whether or not voters count the hefty salary increases against incumbents running for office in the fall will be evident at the polls in November.
Most members are betting it will not be an issue.
``The commission held public hearings before (issuing) the report,'' Rawlings said. ``It was not done in a vacuum.''