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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ind. Law - Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Shepard and Justice Boehm support legislative pay bill

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette today publishes an opinion piece by "Randall T. Shepard and Theodore R. Boehm [, who] are, respectively, the Chief Justice and a Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court," headlined "It’s high time to look at pay increase for legislators." Some quotes:

Long periods without adjustment in legislative pay, even to account for cost of living, create distraction from the public’s real priorities, unfairness to legislative families and incentives for covert means of supplementing pay. Indiana can do better. A clean and honest approach is on the table.
The reference is to SB 401, which passed second reading in the House yesterday. As the bill was not amended by the second house committee, and was not changed on second reading yesterday, when SB 401 passes third reading this week, as it surely will, it will be ready to go directly to the Governor. More from the opinion piece:
The current effort to alter legislator compensation has much to be said for it. For one thing, those who are carrying the proposal have done so in a completely open and straightforward way. There have been no midnight maneuvers conducted outside the public view.

Moreover, there is much merit in a simpler system of compensation than Indiana now uses for legislative pay. The proponents have advanced a bill that trades in sometimes controversial perks for simple salary. It’s a fresh look at a difficult subject.

Yesterday the ILB posted an opinion piece of its own, wrapping up several earlier ILB entries on legislative pay in general and SB 401 in particular. In this entry from April 3rd, the ILB attempted to make clear that line items in the biennial budget bill providing for a daily per diem during the session, and another for during the interium: (1) are tied to the federal cost of living, (2) currently provide about a $30,000 annual "floor" for legislators in addition to their "salary" amount, and (3) will not be affected by SB 401. Further, as pointed out in this entry, (4) the per diem allowance and leadership allowances are to be considered "salary" in computing legislative PERF benefits.

In this March 4, 2007 ILB entry, titled "Senate passes a non-transparent and convoluted pay raise bill," the ILB went through SB 401 line by line, and concluded that SB 401 was far from "a simpler system of compensation." So also did the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, which wrote on Feb. 22nd:

The biggest problem with the pay raise bill offered by Sen. Gary Dillon, R-Columbia City, is that it sets legislative pay at 18 percent of a trial court judge’s salary – a figure that increases automatically each year based on average increases for state workers. It is unacceptable to ask taxpayers to support automatic pay raises. As elected officials, legislators must vote yes or no on bills to increase their pay and then accept the responsibility for convincing voters that the increase is justified.
The Indianapolis Star had an editorial on the same day, headed "Lawmakers must keep salary issue out in the open." Some quotes:
A straight-up vote on a pay increase by the Indiana General Assembly is a refreshing idea, and so is the proposal to cut or eliminate fringe benefits in favor of salary hikes that are more visible to the public.

Unfortunately, the plan of the moment would serve to neutralize those advantages by arbitrarily tying legislators' pay to that of judges, nearly doubling the base salary in a single stroke, and locking in future increases without lawmakers having to take a stand on this sensitive issue down the road.

In short, the tradeoff called for in Senate Bill 401, which passed the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee Tuesday, isn't quite worth it.

Yesterday I concluded that: (1) SB 401 initially would pay legislators twice as much for the same part-time service; (2) would completely obscure the true amount of future legislative compensation through devices such as the appropriations tied to the federal cost of living in the budget bill, and the tieing of the legislative "salary" to the judges' salaries, eliminating any future direct vote on legislative salaries; and, (3) by not addressing the full-time vs. part-time issue, taking off the table any future discussion of conflicts between "part time" legislators and their "real life jobs."

In sum, the ILB was surprised to see an "opinion" piece this morning that seems to bless SB 401,

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 10, 2007 08:45 AM
Posted to Indiana Law