GOP: No pay raise for legislators

Commission set to recommend government salaries, Jan. 8
Republican legislators say no pay increases are needed for members of the General Assembly. BY KARA NUZBACK
December 24, 2012

House and Senate Republicans say they want no pay raise in the coming legislative session.

Delaware Compensation Commission schedules meetings and public hearings to evaluate legislative, executive and judicial salaries every four years. The commission then recommends how much government officials should be paid.

The next recommendation and report are due on Tuesday, Jan. 8, the same day the 147th General Assembly is scheduled to convene.

“We respectfully ask that the commission not recommend to the General Assembly a salary adjustment for lawmakers that would result in increased pay,” GOP legislators wrote in a Dec. 11 letter to Delaware Compensation Commission Chairman Michael Ratchford.

The letter was signed by 22 legislators in the minority caucus.

The entire General Assembly can reject the commission’s recommendation only by joint resolution; otherwise, the recommendation is automatically adopted.

The recommendation will go into effect Monday, July 1, if legislators do not reject the possible pay hike.

"Speaking only on behalf of Republican legislators, we are simply saying, no adjustments are needed," said Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, in a press release.  "Having served in the legislature for 12 years and having talked with my fellow lawmakers we just believe that the compensation levels are already fair and adequate."

As a representative, Lavelle on June 7, 2011, introduced House Bill 159 that would have replaced Delaware Compensation Commission with Delaware Salary Survey Commission, whose recommendations would have been nonbinding.  Legislators who wanted a pay raise would have had to vote for it.

The bill was released from the House Administration Committee, but it never made it to the floor for a vote. Lavelle has donated every pay hike he has received since 2005 to charity.

Delaware Compensation Commission

The six-member commission was created in 1984 to establish competitive salaries for judges and elected officials.   In its first report, issued in 1985, the commission said the legislative, executive and judicial branches of Delaware government were top-notch, but pay was below par when compared with neighboring states.

According to the report, “Despite this high quality of state government, it has long been recognized that our public officials are not being adequately compensated.”

The commission goes on to say salaries should be raised in order for Delaware to retain talented and dedicated officials.  Salaries for legislators in neighboring states at the time were double the $13, 440 being paid to Delaware legislators.  Pay hikes, some more than doubling legislator pay, were automatically put into effect.

Since 1985, the commission has recommended salary increases every four years except in its most recent 2009 report, which came on the heels of the nationwide recession.  The General Assembly rejected the recommendation for pay hikes only one time, in 1993.

Meanwhile, state officials also receive the same periodic salary increases all state employees receive.  In fiscal year 2012, senators and representatives were paid more than $50,000 per year, including an expense allowance; members of certain committees and legislators in leadership positions received more.  Legislators are also reimbursed for gas mileage.

Timeline of Delaware Compensation Commission reports

1985: In its first report, Delaware Compensation Commission recommended pay hikes for everyone, some as high as 120 percent.  With no objections, the new salaries went into effect Feb. 1, 1985 – one month after the report was released.

1989: The commission recommended no adjustments for legislators’ salaries.  Other offices, including state treasurer and secretary of state, received pay raises up to 120 percent of their salary.

1993: Delaware legislators issued a joint resolution rejecting pay hikes recommended by the compensation commission.  Instead, the General Assembly formed its own legislation for smaller salary increases of 3 percent for legislators, 4 percent for judges and an average of 4.1 percent for members of the executive branch.

1997: Judges and some members of the executive branch saw increases in salary, including the governor, lieutenant governor and insurance commissioner.

No salary increase was recommended for the attorney general, public defender, state treasurer or state legislators, but the commission recommended an additional $1,000 be added to each legislator’s expense allowance.

2001: Judges’ salaries went up 7 percent and a 3.5 percent increase went to all state legislators.  The governor, attorney general, public defender, state treasurer, state auditor and insurance commissioner also received increases.

2005: The commission recommended a 9 percent increase in salary for cabinet members and a 10 percent to 50 percent increase for legislators, depending on committee assignments and leadership positions.  Judges also received increases in salary, some as high as 20 percent.  The commission recommended a base salary of $165,700 for the governor.

2009: The commission cited the struggling economy and recommended no salary increases.