Editorial: Two leaders show the way on legislator pay
Maybe the Wisconsin Legislature has some leaders after all. Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, and Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, D-Manitowoc, pledged last week not to accept 5.3 percent pay raises in the face of a giant state budget deficit. The rest of the...
Maybe the Wisconsin Legislature has some leaders after all.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, and Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, D-Manitowoc, pledged last week not to accept 5.3 percent pay raises in the face of a giant state budget deficit.
The rest of their colleagues at the Capitol should do the same.
If all 132 lawmakers refuse their scheduled 5.3 percent pay hikes, taxpayers will avoid an unnecessary $660,000 expense over the next two-year legislative session.
That won't solve the state's huge budget shortfall. But it will show the public that state leaders are leading by example and personally sacrificing before asking others in state government to accept budget cuts.
Top state lawmakers have suggested in recent days that they can't stop the 5.3 percent raise even if they wanted to. To stop the pay hike for the new Legislature sworn into office next month, the current Legislature would have to act before the end of the year -- an impossibility because of the holidays, top lawmakers claim.
But lawmakers have known for months that the state budget is in terrible shape. And the State Journal first asked the Legislature to freeze its pay back in September.
Even now, with the 5.3 percent raise about to kick in, Erpenbach and Ziegelbauer are showing that lawmakers can simply refuse to the take the extra money next year. Erpenbach has actually refused past pay raises by sending the money back to the Senate chief clerk. As a senator with four-year terms, he doesn't accept mid-term raises on principle. He waits until voters re-elect him.
Ziegelbauer plans to return his raise in similar fashion.
Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, almost got it right. He said it's not fair for lawmakers to get a raise when "many folks are facing slimmer family budgets."
Yet by pledging to donate his raise to charity --- rather than giving it back to state coffers -- Davis isn't reducing the state's red ink by even a drop.
Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, who hasn't said whether he'll take his raise, notes that lawmakers have received the equivalent of annual 1.9 percent pay increases over the last decade.
Yet a Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance study shows that Wisconsin pays its lawmakers more than most states. Even without the 5.3 percent raise, Wisconsin legislators will earn $47,413 a year, plus $88 per day in expense money for every weekday they are in Madison on state business. (Dane County lawmakers get half as much for expenses.)
Lawmakers are paid as full-time employees even though most of them find plenty of time for second jobs.
Incoming Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, says individual lawmakers will have to decide for themselves whether to take the scheduled raise.
Erpenbach and Ziegelbauer are leading their colleagues to the right answer.
Copyright © 2008, The Wisconsin State Journal
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.