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AGLO 1975 No. 96 - December 19, 1975
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- STATE ‑- LEGISLATORS ‑- CONSTITUTIONALITY OF PROPOSED LEGISLATIVE PAY RAISES

The legislature may provide for salary increases for its own members but such increases may not become effective until the commencement of the next ensuing terms of office after the enactment of the law increasing salaries.

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                                                               December 19, 1975

Honorable Helen Sommers
State Representative, 36th District
2516 14th Avenue West
Seattle Washington 98119                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1975 No. 96

Dear Representative Sommers:

            By recent letter you have asked for an informal opinion regarding the constitutionality of a bill designed to be enacted into law in 1976 with the objective of increasing legislative salaries to $7,200 per year as of January 10, 1977, and then to $8,400 per year as of January 1, 1978.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Article XXVII, § 1 (Amendment 20) of the state constitution provides that:

            "All elected state officials shall each severally receive such compensation as the legislature may direct. . . ."

            Unquestionably, members of the legislature constitute "elected state officials" within the meaning of this provision.  SeeState ex rel. O'Connell v. Dubuque, 68 Wn.2d 553, 564, 413 P.2d 972 (1966).  Therefore, such legislation as you have described would most certainly be constitutional.

            There is, however, a further issue to be noted.  Article XXX, § 1 (Amendment 54) of the constitution, as approved by the voters on November 5, 1968, provides that:

            "The compensation of all elective and appointive state, county, and municipal officerswho do not fix their own compensation, including judges of courts of  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] record and the justice courts may be increased during their terms of office to the end that such officers and judges shall each severally receive compensation for their services in accordance with the law in effect at the time the services are being rendered."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Since legislatorsdo "fix their own compensation" the underscored exception to this permissive provision as to mid-term increases is applicable to them as a class.  Accord, AGLO 1975 No. 21 [[to Sid Snyder, Secretary of the Senate on March 5, 1975 an Informal Opinion, AIR-75521]], copy enclosed.  Thus, if the bill which you have described should in fact be passed during the forthcoming, January 1976, special session, the following time table for its full implementation would be constitutionally necessary:

            (1) All members of the House of Representatives, and those members of the Senate whose current terms expire and (if reelected) new terms begin on January 10, 1977 (the second Monday in January of that year) would be constitutionally eligible at that time to begin receiving the $7,200 per year salary scheduled to go into effect on that date.

            (2) Those same legislators would also be constitutionally eligible to begin receiving the further increase to $8,400 per year as of January 1, 1978, when that increase would be scheduled, under the bill to take effect.1/

            (3) However, those state senators who will not begin serving new terms of office until January of 1979 (i.e., those now serving four-year terms which commenced in January of 1975) will not be  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] eligible to receive either segment of the proposed pay increase until their new terms commence in 1979; at that time, however, those senators will be eligible immediately to begin receiving the second level, $8,400 per year, increase scheduled to take effect on January 1, 1978.

            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Even though the second increase would thus take effect during the term then being served, it would have been granted by a law passed prior to the commencement of those terms and thus the basic purpose of the constitutional ban against mid-term increases would have been served; the legislators responsible for granting the increase would have had to face the voters at an election occurring between their enactment of the pay raise and the commencement of their receipt of that raise.

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