House narrowly passes raise for elected officials

n The change would begin Jan. 1 and not affect unelected state workers if passed
in the Senate and signed.

BY EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS

The Associated Press

JACKSON – With little debate, the Mississippi House on Thursday narrowly approved a bill that would give pay raises to a host of elected officials, including the governor, judges, district attorneys, county supervisors and legislators.

The bill received 61 “yes” votes – exactly the number it needed to pass; 60 members voted “no.” The bill was held for the possibility of more debate. It eventually would have to pass the Senate before it could go to Gov. Haley Barbour.

This is the first year of most officials’ four-year terms, although appellate judges serve for longer periods. Raises for state officials would take effect Jan. 1. Those for county officials would take effect Oct. 1, the first day of counties’ budget year.

House Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said there is never a good time for legislators to consider increasing their own $10,000-a-year base pay. Members of the House and Senate also receive $1,500 a month when the Legislature is not in session. They’re usually in session three months and out of session nine. Lawmakers also are paid mileage and expenses.

The bill would set legislators’ new base pay at $15,000 and could increase the out-of-session pay to $2,500 a month.

With salaries, out-of-session pay and expenses combined, many legislators received more than $40,000 each from May 2006 through April 2007 – the period covered by the most recent state auditor’s report of legislative costs.

To compare: The 2006 per-capita income in the state was $26,535, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Legislators are not expected to consider a broad-based pay raise for state employees during this tight budget year.

Stringer said statewide elected officials are making significantly less than their counterparts in other Southeastern states. Under the bill:

n The governor’s pay would go to $152,000, up from the current $122,160.

n The attorney general’s pay would be $140,000, up from $108,960.

n The pay for the secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, insurance commissioner and agriculture commissioner would be $120,000, up from $90,000.

n The pay for transportation commissioners and public service commissioners would be $108,000, up from $78,000.

Stringer said in some cases, state law says the elected official’s pay must be higher than the salaries of those working for the official. He said this has created problems for recruiting and retaining employees in the state auditor’s and treasurer’s offices, because people can easily make more working for private companies than they can working for state government.