LANSING - Michigan's top elected officials have had one pay cut and no pay increases in 15 years. And many political observers expect that lengthy freeze to continue, even if a state panel meeting in Lansing Thursday recommends they receive a raise.
Under Michigan's constitution, a seven-member State Officers Compensation Commission, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, recommends when the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, Michigan Supreme Court justices, and state House and Senate members should get pay hikes.
Until a change in 2002, pay hikes recommended by the panel automatically went into effect unless lawmakers voted to reject them. Now, the Legislature must affirmatively vote to adopt the pay hikes, and that has not happened since the change.
Though few in Michigan are losing sleep over how much Snyder and his Capitol colleagues take home each week — and neither Snyder nor the other elected officials has asked for a raise — state employees generally get a pay hike each year, and many state jobs that used to pay less than what the governor or attorney general receives now pay more.
The gap also is narrowing between the pay of Michigan Supreme Court justices and judges in the state's lower courts as a result of 2016 legislation approved by the Legislature and signed by Snyder.
Under the new law, all Michigan judges — except those on the Supreme Court — get the same raises as nonunion state employees, which generally mirrors the hikes unionized state workers receive. Until that law was passed, judges of the Michigan Court of Appeals and circuit and district courts had seen their pay frozen because they only got a raise whenever Supreme Court justices got one.
State elected officials last got a pay hike in 2002. In 2010, as the state was beginning to emerge from a decade-long recession, everybody except the justices took a 10% pay cut:
The governor gets a salary of $159,300, with a $54,000 expense allowance, which is down from a $177,000 salary, with a $60,000 expense allowance in 2002. The lieutenant governor gets $111,510, with an $18,000 expense allowance, down from a $123,900 salary with a $20,000 expense allowance in 2002.
State lawmakers receive a $71,685 salary, with a $10,800 expense allowance, down from a $79,650 salary and a $12,000 expense allowance in 2002.
The attorney general and secretary of state each get a salary of $112,410, down from $124,900 in 2002. Neither receives an expense allowance.
State Supreme Court Justices receive a salary of $164,610, and no expense allowance, which is the same as what they got in 2002.
Tony Sword, 65, of Northville, a retired financial adviser, said Wednesday the system should be revamped to better provide for regular pay increases to keep pace with the cost of living.
"I don't think they're overpaid," Sword said, though he would like to see state lawmakers work more hours.
"If you don't increase salaries, you're going to end up with just the bad ones," he said. "I think they should be fairly compensated for their time."
But Antoinette Weirauch, 76, a retired factory worker who lives in Mason, said Snyder and the other elected officials are paid too much already.
"They don't need a pay raise," she said. "They need to take the money that the taxes have provided and put it into the roads."
Weirauch, who is unhappy with the recent hike in fuel taxes and registration fees, said: "They're getting way too much and they're doing absolutely nothing."
A look at the salaries of Michigan's unclassified employees — appointees who are outside the state civil services — shows how the pay of many state officials is catching up with and overtaking those of elected officials:
In 2012, four state unclassified employees were paid more than the governor (not counting the expense allowance), 44 were paid more than the attorney general or secretary of state, and 118 were paid more than state lawmakers (not counting the expense allowance), records show.
But by 2016, eight state unclassified employees were paid more than the governor, 62 were paid more than the attorney general or secretary of state, and 126 — all but 10 — were paid more than state lawmakers, according to state records.
Michigan Court of Appeals judges are paid $152,955 — or $11,655 less than Michigan Supreme Court justices are paid. The pay gap between the two levels of judges has closed by about $2,000 since the 2016 law was passed, and it's likely to continue closing.
The Legislature did not approve approve pay hikes for justices that were recommended by the State Officers Compensation Commission in 2011, 2013 and 2015.
Former Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. is stepping down from the court before the end of this month to rejoin his former law firm, Dickinson Wright, in Detroit. He will be the second justice in the past 18 months to leave the Michigan Supreme Court for the private sector. Justice Mary Beth Kelly stepped down Oct. 1, 2015, to join another Detroit law firm, Bodman PLC.
Grand Ledge human resources consultant Jodi Wehling, owner of People Matters, said, "Fifteen years is a long time," in reference to how long it has been since raises were approved. But, she said, she would need to know more about total compensation packages, including fringe benefits and how Michigan elected officials' pay compares to other states, before expressing a view on whether Michigan officials should get a raise.
In general, the compression of pay gaps between state employees and elected officials, as well as between lower court judges and those on the Michigan Supreme Court, could become a problem over time in attracting qualified people, she said.
Wehling said her recommendation to the private and nonprofit companies that she deals with is to conduct a competitive market analysis every two to three years.
The state panel performs a similar exercise, comparing the salaries of Michigan elected officials to those of their counterparts in comparable states.
State Officers Compensation Commission
The seven members serve staggered four-year terms and are appointed by the governor. There is currently one vacancy on the commission after the death last April of Paul Welday, a Republican political consultant.
Current members are:
Rod Alberts of Bloomfield Hills, executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association and the North American International Auto Show
James Hallan of East Lansing, president and CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association
Hassan Jaber of Dearborn, executive director of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services
Nancy Jenkins of Manitou Beach, president of Michigan Strategies and a former Republican state representative
Mary Kay Shields of DeWitt, president of CS Partners, a charter school firm
Joseph Smalley of East Lansing, president and founder of Smalley Investments
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