State officials to be deciding if Michigan lawmakers deserve a raise

When Detroit officials were considering raises for the city council and clerk, M.L. Elrick revealed a potential conflict that raised questions about the process.

Now he is scrutinizing the state officials who could decide as early as Wednesday whether state lawmakers and judges deserve a raise - and his investigation is raising new questions.

"When you have a lobbyist in charge of making a recommendation on compensation it just invites reciprocity," said Rich Robinson.  "And it feels incestuous. it's the kind of situation you should avoid."

"Are they looking out for the taxpayers on the state-appointed board first or might their client list come into play first," said Zach Gorchow. "Then it could be a concern." 

Rich Robinson has been tracking money in Michigan politics for years. Zach Gorchow is editor of the state's leading capitol news service. And they agree that lobbyists might not be the most objective folks to put on the state officers compensation commission.

That's the commission that recommends how much to pay the politicians - or the very people that lobbyists are paid to influence.

"If they have given a consideration to public officials in the form of a recommendation for increased compensation," Robinson said. "In the back of somebody's mind, you never lose track of that fact that something has been done for you."

"I don't see that risk in this endeavor one iota," said Larry Meyer.

Meyer is the chairman of the State Officers Compensation Commission. He is a retired lobbyist and former director of the state's commerce department.

The State Officers Compensation Commission consists of seven people appointed by the governor. They are:

-Rod Alberts, a registered lobbyist and executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association.

-Paul Welday, a lobbyist and political consultant.

-Mary Kay Shields, a charter schools consultant.

-Mick Middaugh, a former state representative.

-Carol Klenow, a consultant

-Hassan Jaber, executive director of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services.

Lansing used to work like Detroit, where a commission recommended raises and they went through unless lawmakers rejected them. That all changed about 10 years ago, after state lawmakers accepted a whopper of a raise.

"After that 38% increase," Gorchow said. "There was so much outrage they changed it so that a raise cannot take effect unless a majority of both the House and Senate vote for it to take effect. Probably not a surprise that since then, no raise has happened."

Gorchow, Robinson and Meyer say they have not heard of any state representatives or senators seeking a raise this year. But journalism gurus taught Elrick that if your mother says she loves you, you still need to check it out. 

So M.L. checked the state senate to see if he could find anyone looking for a raise ... (crickets).

Then he checked the state house ... (wild birds cawing).

When it comes to dough, state officials do okay -- especially the representatives and senators, who get mileage, office expenses  and plenty of recesses.

In Michigan, the governor makes about $160,000. 

The lieutenant governor makes more than $111,000.

Michigan State Supreme Court justices make more than $164,000.

The attorney general and secretary of state net $112,000 each.

While senators and reps gross more than $71,000.

So far, the only elected official to ask for a raise has been Michigan State Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young, Jr. 

Meyer says pay for lower court judges is tied to the supreme court salaries and Young writes that raises are needed to help Michigan retain and attract good trial court judges. 

Meyer says the commission may propose raises for judges, but he's not worried about his colleagues trying to use your money to make friends for their clients. 

Elrick: "Do you worry that there may be a temptation for someone who is a lobbyist to say, 'Well I can influence one lawmaker at a time as a lobbyist, or I can influence them all at one time by increasing their salary?"

Meyer: "I think not, i think if we said 'Oh let's try this and give everyone a raise so they'll like us' there would be an equal and opposite reaction."

Still, Robinson says the governor has to try harder to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Elrick: "Who'd like to see the governor appoint to this commission, because I believe it's his authority to put people on here."

"Well, I'd be perfectly willing to serve," Robinson said. "That's my recommendation."

This week, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr. wrote this letter to SOCC. Click here to read it.

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