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Legislators to get raises

March 27, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

House Democrats blocked debate Tuesday on a plan to increase salaries for state legislators, ensuring that the 188 senators and delegates elected in November will get pay hikes of $11,991 over the next four years.

A salary commission submits a pay plan for lawmakers every four years. It takes effect unless the General Assembly reduces or rejects it.

All six Washington County lawmakers joined a last-ditch effort Tuesday to try to bring the issue to the House floor for discussion.

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A move by Republican leaders to bring the proposal up for a House vote was rejected on a 93-41 roll call after a debate during which Republicans said the legislature should not accept a pay raise in tight budget times.

Lawmakers' salaries will go from $31,500 to $34,500 in 2003 and will increase by $3,000 a year in each of the following three years until they reach $43,500 in 2006.

Many local lawmakers said they thought the pay raise was too high, especially in a year when state employees are only getting 2 percent bonuses.

"Eventually we'll get to the point we won't be a citizen legislature. We'll be a full-time legislature," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

Minority Whip Del. James F. Ports Jr., R-Baltimore, argued that it is at least worth debating a raise that makes the Maryland General Assembly the third highest-paying part-time legislature in the country.

"The citizens of Maryland deserve to see how we vote," he said.

Majority Leader Maggie L. McIntosh, D-Baltimore, argued that the process was set up so lawmakers would not have to vote on their own pay.

The pay plan came from an independent commission that looked at the workload and salaries of Maryland lawmakers compared with other states, she said.

Individual lawmakers can choose to give back their raises next year, she said.

Delegate Richard D'Amato, D-Anne Arundel, said if he is re-elected, he will not take the increase until state employees get a cost-of-living increase. In the meantime, he will put the additional money into the House of Delegates scholarship program.

The Senate has not taken up the pay raise issue this session.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, introduced legislation to reject the raises but the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee never gave him a hearing.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he supports the pay plan as fair compensation.

Even though the legislature meets for only three months of the year, Munson said he has been a full-time legislator based on a commitment he made when he was a delegate in 1974.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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