August 3, 2011

Zarelli tells member he won't take voluntary pay cut

Sen. Joe Zarelli of the 18th District in Southwest Washington says he will not join his House colleague Rep. Ann Rivers and take a voluntary 3 percent pay cut under the new law encouraging state elected officials to make the same sacrifices as frontline state employees who are having pay cut.

Zarelli is the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee and was one of the 36 senators who voted May 25 for ESSB 5860, the bill cutting state employee pay. Section 2 of ESSB 5860 included the provision allowing legislators and other state elected officials to sign a state form authorizing waiver of 3 percent (or any amount really) of their pay.

As we reported over the weekend, only four legislators (all in the House) and a few elected officials had taken the voluntary pay cut so far. Some have contributed to charity and some say they’ll sign up now that they know about it (even though the governor sent a memo to all of them in June encouraging them to join her in signing up for the voluntary 3 percent cut).

A Local 862 member at Green Hill School in Chehalis yesterday e-mailed his three 18th District legislators. He thanked Rivers for taking the voluntary cut.  He also asked Zarelli and Rep. Ed Orcutt to join in the voluntary reduction because “it’s the right thing to do.”

In his response, Zarelli implied he’s not opposed to a pay cut for legislators but he’s holding out for a constitutional change. Under a voter-approved constitutional amendment from 1986, the independent citizens’ commission that sets elected officials’ salaries can raise or freeze pay, but can’t cut it. Several proposed constitutional amendments failed to move during the 2011 legislative session. But the governor succeeded in winning the voluntary pay cut section of ESSB 5860.

“I do not do this job based on the salary but because I believe in representative government and do my best to represent the constituents of my district,” Zarelli responded. “I am fine with whatever rate of pay the commission sets.”

Here is Zarelli’s full response. We leave it up to you to make any value judgment about it:

Thank you for your message…. The newspaper story is correct in that Senator Kilmer did introduce a constitutional amendment to allow reductions in elected officials' pay, but for some reason there is no mention of the constitutional amendment I proposed (SJR 8202), even though it was the only one to pass the Senate Ways and Means Committee and be endorsed by the Citizens' Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. I pressed hard to move that measure forward, so the commission would have authority to raise or lower our salaries at any time, even in the middle of our terms, but the majority party chose not to bring it before the full Senate.

Also, it's not quite accurate for the report to say the Legislature "cut" most workers' pay by 3%. The change was negotiated by the governor and the state employee unions - the Legislature only has authority to vote up or down on agreements made by the governor. And it's not a pay cut in the traditional sense, because the 3% reduction the unions agreed to for the current biennium also provides for an equal reduction in work hours, so the net pay is the same for the hours worked.

Legislators' salaries are at the 2008 level and will remain there through at least 2012. We are "exempt" employees and treated differently than employees under union contracts, many of whom (about one-third) were able to receive "step" increases over the past two years, even though they (like us) did not get COLA increases. Those represented employees will continue to be eligible for such pay raises during this next fiscal biennium (unlike us).

All that said, I do not do this job based on the salary but because I believe in representative government and do my best to represent the constituents of my district. I am fine with whatever rate of pay the commission sets.

Again, thank you for your thoughts on this matter.

Also for your information, here is the roll call of the May 25 Senate vote on the bill allowing legislators to voluntarily cut their pay:

ESSB 5860 (5/25/11)
Yeas: 36  Nays: 10  Absent: 0  Excused: 3
  • Voting Yea:  Senators Becker, Brown, Chase, Conway, Eide, Ericksen, Fain, Fraser, Hargrove, Harper, Hatfield, Haugen, Hewitt, Hill, Hobbs, Honeyford, Kastama, Keiser, Kilmer, King, Kline, Kohl-Welles, Litzow, McAuliffe, Murray, Parlette, Pflug, Prentice, Ranker, Regala, Rockefeller, Schoesler, Swecker, Tom, White, and Zarelli
  • Voting Nay:  Senators Baumgartner, Baxter, Carrell, Delvin, Holmquist Newbry, Morton, Pridemore, Roach, Sheldon, and Stevens
  • Absent
  • Excused:  Senators Benton, Nelson, and Shin
Note: If you’re in the districts of the only four legislators who’ve signed up so far, please thank them: Rep. Ann Rivers, R-18th District; Rep. Frank Chopp, D-43rd District; Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-26th District; and Rep. Troy Kelley, D-28th District.

Let us know what they tell you. E-mail us at:

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