Constitutional Clash on Pay Raise


It appears that the state Constitution, which is often ignored by our lawmakers and courts when it comes to getting stuff they really want, is in conflict over the question of annual automatic pay raises.

Recently, I and others noted this year's annual raise for members of the largest full-time legislature in America (plus all of our more than 1,000 judges and other state officials) is 2.2 percent, or an extra $1,776 (ironic number) for most members starting Dec. 1.

Leaders, of course, get more.

The annual increase has been in place since signed into law by Gov. Ridge in 1995.

But here's the thing: two sections of the Constitution dealing with the Legislature and legislation seem to be in conflict on the question of compensation.

Article II, Section 8 says, "The members of the General Assembly shall receive such salary and mileage for regular and special sessions as shall be fixed by law, and no other compensation whatever, whether for service upon committee of otherwise."

Since the annual automatic pay increase WAS "fixed by law" back in 1995 it would appear lawmakers are good to go.

But, Article III, Section 27 says, "No law shall extend the term of any public officer, or increase or diminsh his salary or emoluments, after his election or appointment."

Since all members of the House and half the members of the Senate were elected or reelected Nov. 6 and the salary boost comes Dec. 1, it sure seems that lots of folks are getting an increase AFTER their election.

So, either the 1995 law is unconstitutional and somebody should sue to recoup all the tax dollars spent since then on pay raises for legislators, judges and others, OR this is just another case of our lawmakers and judges interpreting the Constitution in ways that benefit themselves.

If there are other options to this conclusion, I'd be interested in hearing them.