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How fair is legislative pay hike?
Legislators to gain 61% increase over 1991; state rank and file have gained 41.5% since 1990

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — When Alabama legislators were criticized for voting themselves a 61 percent pay raise, some said it was only fair since most employees in state government had received substantial pay raises since lawmakers last hiked their compensation in 1991.

But the pay for rank and file state employees has gone up only 41.5 percent since 1990, not 61 percent, according to the executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association, Mac McArthur.

Alabama teachers have seen their pay go up 59.5 percent since 1990, about the same percentage as sought by legislators.

Thatís similar to the governor, too: According to state records, Gov. Bob Riley is making $112,894, which is a 60 percent increase over the $70,222 the governorís job paid in 1990, when Guy Hunt held the post.

And when it comes to judges, the pay has gone up a good bit more than 61 percent since 1991. The pay for a starting circuit judge has gone from $56,760 a year in 1990 to $111,973 in 2007, a 97 percent increase.

The chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is making $152,027 today, an 82 percent increase over the $83,880 the position paid in 1990.

ďEverybody who has requested a pay raise, we have given it to them,Ē said Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, who supports the raise.

The U.S. Department of Laborís Consumer Price Index has gone up 54.2 percent since 1990. The resolution approved by legislators says their pay will
automatically go up in future years if the Consumer Price Index rises.

On March 8, the second day of the 2007 regular session, lawmakers in the House and Senate decided by unrecorded voice votes to raise their annual compensation from $30,710 to $49,500. The governor has promised to veto the pay raise and is expected to send it back to lawmakers Tuesday. Lawmakers supporting the raise have said they have enough votes to override the governorís veto.

An opponent of the pay raise, House Minority Leader Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said he doesnít question that itís been too long since the last pay adjustment for lawmakers.

ďAll those other pay raises were done over time and they didnít raise their own pay,Ē Hubbard said. ďTo come and do a 61 percent raise in one fell swoop and do it without a recorded vote, thatís wrong.Ē

McArthur said he plans to ask lawmakers to give state employees a 7 percent raise this session, even though Riley has not included money for that raise in his proposed General Fund budget.

McArthur said he may have something to say if lawmakers raise their own pay and then balk at giving state employees a pay hike.

ďI certainly believe state employee deserve a 7 percent raise and I will be as articulate as I can to express that,Ē McArthur said.

Michael Ciamarra, vice president of the Birmingham-based Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, said opponents of the raise donít question that itís been a long time since lawmakersí pay was adjusted, but donít like the way the raise was adopted. Ciamarra pointed out that many lawmakers were elected last year on pledges of reforming ethics and bringing good government to Montgomery.

ďJust how many legislators campaigned last year on promises they were going to give themselves a pay raise?Ē Ciamarra said.

Ciamarra also pointed out that according to the 2004 U.S. Census figures, after the pay raise lawmakers will be making, for what is considered a part-time job, more than the median household income in all Alabama counties except Shelby and Madison.

The pay raise vote has caused a stir across the state, becoming a favorite topic on talk radio stations. Legislators have reported receiving calls at home and the phone lines at the Alabama Statehouse have been loaded with callers wanting to express an opinion on the raise.

A talk radio station in Birmingham, WYDE, has organized a rally in front of the Statehouse for Tuesday morning of people opposed to the raise.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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