Lansing — The State Officers Compensation Commission on Thursday began to review whether Michigan’s governor, legislators, Supreme Court justices and other elected officials deserve pay raises for the first time in more than 15 years.
The seven-member panel, created by the state constitution and appointed by the governor, will make recommendations by June 15.
Any pay changes would require legislative approval, which has happened only once since 2002, when Michigan voters approved a ballot proposal limiting the power of the commission. That one change — approved in 2009 for 2011 — cut pay for legislators, the governor and lieutenant governor 10 percent.
The panel will consider whether the state should reverse the cuts for the Legislature and executive office, among other things. Michigan legislators are paid $71,685 a year. The governor makes $159,300 and the lieutenant governor makes $111,510.
“I think the question becomes, what were the reasons for the cut, and then to see if things have changed since then,” said commission Chairman Joseph Smalley of East Lansing, president and founder of Smalley Investments.
Commissioners are expected to give extra attention to Supreme Court justice pay rates. The commission, which meets every two years, suggested pay increases for justices in 2011, 2013 and 2015, but legislators did not act on the recommendation. Justices earn $164,610 a year.
In a letter to the commission, Chief Justice Stephen Markman requested a chance to appear before members at a future meeting, noting the commission has “repeatedly recognized the challenge of frozen judicial pay at all levels since 2002.”
Markman is so far the only elected official to suggest the need for higher compensation rates as the commission begins its biennial review.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and House Speaker Tom Leonard have not requested raises for themselves or their members, and Leonard told The Detroit News he does not support pay raises for legislators.
The commission will also consider compensation levels for attorney general and secretary of state, jobs that currently pay $112,410 a year.
Michigan elected officials last got a pay raise in 2002, when all salaries increased 2.9 percent. In 2001, salaries rose 13.7 percent for the governor, 19.6 percent for the lieutenant governor, 13.6 percent for Supreme Court justices and 35.8 percent for legislators.
Those pay raises prompted a public backlash, leading to a 2002 ballot proposal to require legislative approval for any raises. Previously, commission recommendations were automatic unless a two-thirds majority of the Legislature rejected them.
“So in essence, it becomes a political decision,” said commissioner James Hallan of East Lansing, president and CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association, acknowledging that panel recommendations could fall on deaf ears.
“Our process is to take a look at the data to try to determine what is best for the state, and then to make our recommendation,” Smalley said. “At the end of the day, the Legislature will do what the Legislature does. It would be nice if they gave it their attention.”
Thursday’s meeting was largely informational, as the state budget department, treasury and civil service commission briefed commissioners on state revenue data and official pay rates in neighboring states.
Members requested additional information, including historical pay data for other state employees and impact projections for a possible reversal of the 2010 cuts.
Commissioner Nancy Jenkins of Manitou Beach, a Republican former state representative, said she doesn’t yet have a position on potential pay raises for legislators but acknowledged a recommendation to that effect may not be popular.
“The perception is that you work three days a week and you have your summers off,” she said of legislators. “That’s not the case at all. When we’re not in Lansing we’re working hard in the district.”
Some of her former colleagues told her they took a pay cut to join the Legislature, Jenkins said, adding that “we are leaders in the state, but we’re also servant leaders, so we need to make sure we maintain that.”