JEFFERSON CITY — There will be no pay raise this year for Missouri's elected officials and judges.
The Missouri Senate voted 32-1 on Thursday to reject pay raises recommended by a citizens' commission. The Missouri House of Representatives turned down the pay raises earlier this week 129-31.
Both votes easily exceeded the two-thirds majority required by the Missouri Constitution to reject the salary plan of the commission.
With the economy in recession and the state's budget facing a shortfall, lawmakers did the politically prudent thing. They decided to keep their current salary of $35,915 a year.
"The timing couldn't be worse, as far as us allowing a pay raise to go through," said Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, who handled the resolution rejecting the higher salaries.
The legislature determines annually whether to give pay raises to state employees. But the Missouri Constitution sets up a special process for determining the salaries of legislators, judges and statewide elected officials, such as the governor and attorney general.
The Citizens' Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials meets every two years and makes salary recommendations for those officials. Unless they are rejected by a two-thirds vote of the legislature by Feb. 1, the recommended salary increases automatically take effect with the next budget.
Last November, a citizens' commission lacking a majority of its members recommended that associate circuit judges receive a $1,500 pay raise in each of the next two years to try to narrow their salary gap with circuit judges.
Circuit judges currently earn $120,484 and associate circuit judges $109,366.
The panel also recommended that if state employees receive a pay raise, then all judges, legislators and statewide elected officials should receive the same thing. Gov. Jay Nixon has proposed a 3 percent pay raise for state employees during the 2010 budget year, which starts July 1, though legislators have until May to act on that.
Because the commission's pay plan must be accepted or rejected in its entirety, lawmakers could not deny a pay raise for themselves while allowing one for judges.
Several senators expressed frustration about that Thursday, noting that judges have claimed they are having difficulty attracting qualified candidates for the bench because urban lawyers can make more money in private practice.
The lone "no" vote Thursday came from Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, who said she wished there were a way to separate legislators' pay from those of judges and other state officials.
Two years ago, legislators allowed the commission's pay raise recommendations to take effect, resulting in double-digit percentage pay raises for themselves, judges and other state elected officials.