Legislators are considering a plan that would significantly raise the salaries of state officials — all but the governor. Governor Tom Vilsack recommends that legislators’ salaries rise nearly 17 percent on January 1st, 2007. Other statewide elected officials like the State Auditor and State Treasurer would see their pay rise by 17-point-three percent if lawmakers endorse the plan. House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Republican from Sioux City, says he supports the proposal — and wants to add a pay increase for the next governor, too. Rants says there are a lot of people in state government who are making more than the governor, and there should be a salary hike for the next governor, whomever it may be. Senate Co-Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, may run for governor. “I think Governor Gronstal isn’t advocating for an increase for himself, but I think the legislature will take a look at what we do for our chief executive salaries,” Gronstal says. The most controversial part of the plan is that pay hike for legislators. Rants, the top Republican in the House, says lawmakers’ base salary of just over 21-thousand dollars a year was set in 1999. Rants says legislators also took a pay cut a couple of years ago when times were tight. Senator Jeff Angelo , a Republican from Creston who leads the Senate Appropriations Committee, isn’t wild about voting for a pay hike. “I worry about the impression that we give if the very first year that (state tax) revenues start bouncing back one of our priorities is raising the (salaries) for state officials,” Angelo says. He says now that state tax receipts are growing again, it’s time to focus on priority areas like education. Angelo would be open to a discussion next year about salary hikes for state officials. Angelo says the people of Iowa might be “more open” to the idea that the salaries for state officials need to be more competitive. But Rants counters that raising legislators’ annual salary to 25-thousand dollars isn’t that out-of-line since the pay won’t go up ’til 2007 anyway. Rants says if legislative salaries had kept pace with inflation, they’d be higher than 25-thousand and if they’d gone up as much as the negotiated pay increases state workers won, they’d be much higher. Gronstal, the Democratic leader in the Senate, says legislators should be able to withstand the public scrutiny since they’ll have to stand for election before the pay hikes would go into effect. Gronstal says some legislators lose money by giving up their full-time jobs and serving in the legislature. “I think we have to keep a competitive salary schedule for legislators. This is not a dramatic increase for legislators,” Gronstal says. “If you divide that (16.9 percent increase) out over eight years, it’s less than two percent a year.” Legislative leaders say Democrats and Republicans will have to reach an agreement on a bill that provides the money for rank-and-file state worker salaries before they ever vote on this pay plan for state officials. A committee meeting today (Wednesday) to review the plan was canceled.
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