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Originally published Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 1:59 PM

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Panelsays it can't reduce salary of WA officials

A commission that sets salaries of elected officials in state government said Thursday it can't order a pay cut, as requested by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. —

A commission that sets salaries of elected officials in state government said Thursday it can't order a pay cut, as requested by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The governor and other statewide elected officials have asked that their paychecks be reduced by the same level expected to be cut from the pay of state workers.

However, the Washington Citizens' Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials said the state constitution forbids it from reducing pay and only allows it to freeze or raise salaries.

"It would take a constitutional amendment to do that," said Teri Wright, executive assistant for the commission.

Elected officials can either write a check back to the state or donate to charity, Wright said.

Gregoire is grappling with a projected two-year state budget deficit of $4.6 billion. He unveiled a spending plan this week that proposes cuts across government, including to the pay of state workers.

Gregoire announced a two-year agreement Tuesday with state workers that calls for a 3 percent salary decrease in the form of unpaid leave, as well as a 25 percent increase in health insurance costs.

That same day, Gregoire sent a letter to the chairman of the commission, saying her 2011-2013 budget "must include some financial sacrifice for all state employees."

Gregoire wrote that she and other statewide officials believe "we should be subject to the same salary and benefit reductions as all other state employees."

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, Secretary of State Sam Reed, Attorney General Rob McKenna, Auditor Brian Sonntag, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn and Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark all signed the letter.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler sent his own letter to the commission asking for a pay cut. Treasurer Jim McIntire also sent a separate letter, asking the commission to freeze his pay.

Gregoire currently makes $166,891 a year. McKenna is paid $151,718; Dorn and Goldmark each earn $121,618; Reed, McIntire, Sonntag and Kreidler each get $116,950, while Owen is paid $93,948.

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In light of the commission decision, the offices of Reed, Dorn and Kreidler said they would donate an equitable amount to charity, once the Legislature finalizes the reduction to state workers.

Sonntag will increase his donation to the Tacoma Rescue Mission this month, but would not diclose the amount, his spokeswoman Mindy Chambers said.

McKenna was considering giving money to a nonprofit working to help overcome potential cuts to state services, perhaps one supporting foster care, McKenna spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie said.

Gregoire's office did not immediately respond to questions on what action she would take.

The commission was created by voters by constitutional amendment in 1986. The 16-member panel includes nine voters chosen at random by the secretary of state. The other seven members come from academia, business, law, organized labor and other sectors.

The commission meets once every two years to set salaries, using consultants' studies and discussing the changing duties and responsibilities of each office and other factors.

Two years ago, after state officials including Gregoire requested it, the commission froze their pay.

Wright said the next commission meeting to discuss salaries is scheduled for early February, and a final decision wouldn't be made until May.

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Online:

http://www.salaries.wa.gov

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