Salary-setting panel is missing in inaction

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 | 4:30 p.m. CDT; updated 7:54 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A frequently ignored state panel that sets salaries for judges and elected officials appears to be missing almost half its members.

Gov. Matt Blunt is supposed to pick 12 members, the secretary of state randomly selects one representative from each of the state’s nine congressional districts and the Supreme Court picks a retired judge. Those selections were due Feb. 1.

But only the secretary of state appears to have made her appointment deadline.

The governor’s office Web site on Wednesday didn’t show that Blunt has made any new appointments to the panel, and the Supreme Court was two months tardy in selecting former Supreme Court Judge John Holstein for the panel.

A spokeswoman for Blunt did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Any new appointees would need Senate confirmation, but lawmakers adjourned last month. New appointees could continue serving but would need to be approved when senators return.

It’s not the first time politicians have overlooked the salary commission, which was created in 1994. Lawmakers sometimes have refused to budget for the raises the panel recommended, and state officials didn’t even appoint members in 2004.

The constitution requires that the 22-member Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials hold four meetings throughout the state starting in August. The panel must decide on its salary recommendations by Dec. 1.

Missouri voters in 2006 approved a constitutional amendment designed to give the commission more influence and help judges get a pay raise. As a result, lawmakers must approve a resolution by a two-thirds majority — instead of a simple majority — if they want to reject the salary commission’s recommendations. The 2006 measure also removed a provision that essentially had allowed the legislature to block the pay raise by not putting any money in the budget for it.

In 2006, the salary commission suggested a $1,200 raise, plus a 4 percent raise, for judges, statewide officials and legislators, though legislators’ higher pay wouldn’t kick in until 2009. The House voted to reject it, but because the Senate never acted, the recommendations went into effect.

The commission members appointed so far are: Holstein of Springfield; Marion McGuinn of Florissant; Timothy Hufker of St. Louis; Erin Cotter of St. Louis; Elizabeth Banwart of Liberal; Thomas Theiss of Independence; Danny Judy of Platte City; Cedric Shirley of Aurora; Mary Lou White of Bismarck; and Gene Danekas of Columbia.

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