JEFFERSON CITY - In a little-known constitutional amendment before Missouri voters, the legislature would take back some authority from a state commission that sets the salaries and expenses of elected officials.
The Citizens' Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials was created in 1994 when voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment. It recommends salaries, mileage and expenses for General Assembly members, statewide elected officials and judges.
The 22-member commission can propose salary changes every two years. If the General Assembly does not disapprove of the proposals, the changes automatically take effect. The legislature can disapprove of the salaries in total, but does not have the authority to pick and choose which offices receive salary changes.
If approved, Amendment 3 would take away the commission's authority to set mileage and expenses. It would also do away with the legislature's two-week time period to deny the commission's recommendations.
Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County, introduced the amendment in the Senate.
"There was pretty uniform support in repealing the law in the Senate," Goode said.
The resulting language in Amendment 3 is a compromise to change the way the commission works, Goode said.
Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, sponsored the measure in the House.
"We're just trying to clean up the process and make it work better," Graham said. "It's been problematic ever since it started."
Graham said Amendment 3 would also ban retroactive pay raises for legislators.
"As it is set up, this is the first major vote for lawmakers in the session," Graham said. "This would give us more time to go through the regular budget appropriations timetable."
But Sen. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, disagreed with Amendment 3. He voted against the measure.
"It's an affront to the voters of the state of Missouri," Clay said. "It's sad that a majority of legislators bought into this amendment."
Clay, who is running for Congress, said the intent of the salary commission was to take the process away from the legislature.
"There's a fear factor working here," Clay said. "They were too scared to take the salary increase."
The debate over legislators' pay increases has also become an issue in the Secretary of State's race. Campaign ads for Rep. Matt Blunt, R-Springfield, accuse Rep. Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, of voting pay increases for himself.
Gaw, on the other hand, has a TV ad claiming he has refused pay increases that have cleared the legislature.
Goode said the legislature's authority to accept or decline raises proposed by the commission was challenged in a 1997 court case. A former judge was not happy with the way the legislature overturned the commission's salary recommendation for judges. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the legislature had acted improperly.
Graham and Goode both said the commission's authority to set expenses and mileage was unneeded because state law already provides for state employees to receive 80 percent of what federal workers in Missouri get for expenses. State reimbursement for mileage is also tied to a federal formula.
Mark Reading, the state's assistant director for budget, has been in charge of the commission since earlier this year.
Reading said the commission's members declined to take a stand on Amendment 3.
"The commission talked about a few of the changes," Reading said. "But they decided it wasn't their role to take a formal position."
The commission will meet Nov. 15 in Jefferson City in its fifth and final meeting to discuss salary recommendations for the next two years, Reading said.