By Len Lazarick
If legislators do nothing to stop it in the next 19 days, members of the Maryland General Assembly elected this fall -- including probably two-thirds of the current members -- will get a 16% raise over the next four years, bringing their annual salaries to $50,330. They currently make $43,500 for what is technically a part-time job.
Lawmakers have already allowed the next governor to get a 20% raise to $180,000 by doing nothing to stop it in the first 45 days of the current session.
The lawmakers have not had a raise in eight years; the governor's salary has been $150,000 for nine years.
The raises come through the decisions of two separate salary commissions created in the Maryland constitution that requires outside bodies to recommend changes in salaries, pensions and expenses for the top elected officials. If the legislature does not lower or reject them, they go into effect automatically -- without any senator or delegate having to take a vote on their own pay or that of the governor.
Republican resolutions reject pay hike
The only potential roadblock to next year's pay hikes are resolutions introduced by all 12 Republican senators and 38 of the 43 Republicans in the House of Delegates.
Both resolutions sit in the Rules Committee of each house, committees dominated by the Democratic leadership where most resolutions are sent to die.
The Senate Rules Committee has not even had a hearing on the resolution late-filed on Feb. 27 and the House has had two brief hearings where only two delegates spoke in favor of rejecting the pay hikes.
"I just think salary increases should be based on some goals, like unemployment figures," said Del. Wade Kach, the lead sponsor who is a 40-year House veteran running for the Baltimore County Council.
On Dec. 16, the General Assembly Compensation Commission recommended the pay hike based on the cost of living increases for the past eight years and likely COLAs in the next four years. Kach said at the very least the increase based on projected inflation should be cut.
May be no opportunity for a vote
"As time goes by, the chances of [the resolution] passing are diminished," Kach said. "If it's put in a drawer in Rules, we won't have an opportunity to vote it up or down."
Rules Committee Chair Anne Healey pointed out that, "We hardly ever do resolutions at all," and wouldn't predict whether the committee would take a vote.
House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, one of five Republicans on the 24-member committee, said, "We're going to try to see what we can do to get it out."
One possible move is to petition it out of the Rules Committee, but that would require the signature of 47 members -- meaning some Democrats would need to sign on.
Here is the report of the General Assembly Compensation Commission. It includes history of pay increases, comparisons with other Maryland officials and other states, and reports on use of expense accounts.
In 2010, the legislature rejected a recommended pay increases that would have been based on reducing the unemployment rate.