by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
In a year of state constitutional amendments for stem cell research, tobacco taxes and raising the minimum wage, Amendment 7 gets little attention.
In fact, I am starting to feel sorry for it. It doesn’t even have a catch phrase. Well, let’s fix that right now. How about we call it the “Fair Compensation Act” to more easily convey its purpose. How about a campaign slogan to go along with the new name? “Vote for 7 on the 7th” has a nice ring to it. Or “7 is Missouri’s lucky number.”
Frankly, Amendment 7 needs all the hype it can get because it provides several fixes for a severely broken part of our constitution: the way we compensate elected officials and judges.
First off, it bars officials who have been removed from office by impeachment, misconduct or felony arrest from receiving a state pension. Seems reasonable.
You shouldn’t get retirement benefits for a job you were so bad at that you were forcibly removed.
Second, it attempts to restore legitimacy to the Missouri Citizens Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials. Another constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1994 established this commission. Its purpose is to recommend pay raises for judges, members of the General Assembly and other statewide officials, such as the governor, lieutenant governor, etc. The idea was to remove politics from such decisions.
Unfortunately, the 1994 law allows the General Assembly to ignore the commission’s recommendations — or de-fund any increases approved — by a simple majority vote. In today’s political world of non-stop campaigning, every member of the House and Senate is scared to be seen as “voting for their own pay raise.”
Because the Commission on Compensation has no real authority, pay for state legislators has remained stagnant while the workload for legislators has increased. Any legislator worth his or her salt spends much of the time between sessions serving on interim committees, learning about issues, working on legislation for the next session or helping constituents navigate the state bureaucracy. Serving in today’s state legislature is a full-time job.
Elected officials don’t run for office because the salary is attractive. In fact, most make considerably less by serving. A low salary, however, can be a…