Butler County legislators split on pay raise
Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 24, 2007
Sen. Wendell Mitchell and Rep. Charles Newton were split on whether or not legislators deserved a 62 percent pay raise.
On Tuesday the House and Senate voted to override the governor's veto and give members an increase that will raise the compensation of lawmakers from $30,710 to $49,500 a year.
Newton (D-Greenville) voted no, joining 40 other legislators in the House to oppose the pay increase. The House, without any debate, voted 57-41 to override the governor's veto. A few minutes later, the Senate voted 20-15 to do the same, with only two senators going to the microphone to speak against it. Depending on whether special sessions are called, the raise amounts to an increase of 61 percent or 62 percent.
“I just thought it was the way to vote,” said Newton. “It was the right thing to do. The majority of people I heard from in my district were opposed to the pay raise.”
Newton said he hoped the divisiveness of the issue didn't stall work in the Legislature.
“It's early in the session and we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” he said.
It was the Legislation's first pay increase in 16 years, and it sparked an angry statehouse protest rally.
Although Mitchell (D-Luverne) continues to say the increase is too excessive, he voted in favor of the override. Mitchell said the governor was asked to reduce the increase to a reasonable amount, but when he sent it back to the Legislature, “he had out and out vetoed any raise.
“You either voted for the raise that was on the table or no raise at all,” Mitchell said. “He left us no choice.
“It's a shame it had not been done periodically through the years.”
Newton said he didn't know how he would have voted had the governor amended the pay raise and decreased the amount of compensation.
“There wasn't another resolution that came up for discussion,” he said. “This was it.”
Lawmakers supporting the raise said it was needed because they had not received a raise in compensation since 1991, but opponents said it was excessive.
Mitchell said those opposing the issue have to understand that the Legislature has not had an increase in pay for 16 years and expenses have increased.
The sponsor of the pay raise resolution, House Speaker Pro Tem Demetrius Newton, (D-Birmingham), told members they could return the raise to the state treasury if they believe it is excessive.
House Minority Leader Rep. Mike Hubbard, (R-Auburn), predicted that members who voted for the raise would “regret it” when they face reelection in 2010.
“I don't think the public will forget it. At least this vote was on the record and there's no way to hide it,” Hubbard said.
With some exceptions, the vote mostly fell along party lines, with Democrats supporting it and Republican lawmakers opposing the increase.
Riley sent his veto to the Legislature after protesters held a rally Tuesday morning at the statehouse to voice outrage over the pay increase.
Riley said he feels most people in Alabama believe the amount “excessive.”
He said he doesn't question that lawmakers, who haven't received a raise since 1991, deserve more money. But he said it should be smaller and take effect over several years.
But one House member, Rep. Lesley Vance, (D-Phenix City), said he thinks legislators deserve the raise.
“We have helped everybody else get raises,” said Vance, referring to raises lawmakers have approved in recent years for teachers, state employees and judges. “If we continue to not allow having an incentive to serve here we are going to have nobody but the filthy rich over here.”
Senate President Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem, (D-Union Grove), said Tuesday was the first time he had voted for a pay raise in his 32 years in the Legislature.
“We don't need government to get to where only the wealthy can afford to serve. We've got people now in the Legislature who can no longer afford to serve financially,” Mitchem said.
The House and Senate passed the raise on March 8 by unrecorded voice votes, but had to take a recorded vote to override the veto.
Riley sent the veto shortly after more than 200 people gathered outside the Statehouse to protest the raise. One of the dozens of signs seemed to convey their feelings: “I've got 2 words for ya ‘Hell No!”
The protest was organized by Matt Murphy, a talk show host on Birmingham radio station WYDE.
“It is ridiculous to think this Legislature in 2007 believes they deserve a 62 percent raise,” Murphy told the rally, which was held as lawmakers were beginning to arrive at the Statehouse. In the crowd, protesters shouted, “Throw them out.”