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SUNDAY, MARCH 25, 2007

Pay hike? I don’t remember any pay hike
Experts say Alabama voters are likely to forget legislators voting themselves 62 percent salary increase

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — One sign at a rally outside the Statehouse this week protesting the vote by legislators to give themselves a 62 percent pay raise said “Vote All The Bums Out.”

But political science experts say it’s unlikely voters will take that advice almost four years from now when state legislators next face re-election.

“I don’t think it will have much of an impact. Voters have relatively short memories,” said David Lanoue, chairman of the political science department at The University of Alabama. “In a close race it might be something an opponent can exploit.”

Legislators in the House and the Senate voted Tuesday to override a veto by Gov. Bob Riley of a resolution that raised the annual pay of lawmakers from $30,710 to $49,500 a year. It was the first raise in compensation for Alabama legislators since 1991.

The vote left some predicting defeat at the polls for lawmakers when they face re-election in 2010. In Pennsylvania, when lawmakers in 2005 voted themselves and other public officials a pay raise in the middle of the night, there was such public outcry that lawmakers later rescinded the increase and some were defeated at the polls.

But Lanoue said he doesn’t expect a similar reaction in Alabama, despite the initial outcry on talk radio and the protest Tuesday in front of the Statehouse.

“The rule of thumb in politics is that two years are forever,” Lanoue said. He said voters would likely forget the raise if the economy is still strong and lawmakers have avoided other hot-button issues that might set off public anger.

Jess Brown, political science professor at Athens State University, said legislators will have plenty of opportunity to get back on the good side of voters between now and 2010.

“It’s not going to be a badge of honor, but they can defer criticism by saying, ‘Yes, I got a big pay raise, but I haven’t had one in 16 years,’ ” Lanoue said. He said the raise is most likely to play a role in districts where there have been close races in recent years between Democrats and Republicans.

State Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, who voted for the raise, said he doesn’t think the vote will have much effect in the next election.

“Certainly some voters will remember it. But hopefully they will study and see we needed to extend our compensation,” Black said. “Four years from now there may be a lot of other votes to bring up than that one.”

But Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, who voted against the raise, said he believes Alabama residents will add the pay raise to a long list of gripes concerning state government.

“It will be death by a thousand wounds,” he said.

The vote fell largely along party lines, with Democrats mostly supporting the raise and Republicans mostly voting against it. Just seven Republicans voted in favor of the pay hike and seven Democrats voted against it.

Alabama Democratic Party chairman Joe Turnham said the raise could actually end up being used against some lawmakers who voted against it, but take the extra money.

Turnham said he believes lawmakers will be judged by everything that happens in the next four years and not just on the raise vote.

“It will certainly be used by the political spin doctors, but I think most people will be judged on their own records,” Turnham said.

Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, minority leader in the House and state Republican Party chairman, said he believes voters will remember.

“I am certain it will be an issue in campaign 2010,” Hubbard said. “I think voters are going to put this vote in a colored folder to be pulled out in 2010.”

One legislator, Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham, said he hopes voters in his district remember that he voted for the pay raise.

“I hope it causes them to look back at what I have done to see if I have earned that pay and see how I have helped to improve my district,” Robinson said.

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

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