The members of Maryland's House of Delegates yesterday virtually guaranteed themselves a 48 percent pay raise over the next four years, but it did in a way that allows the majority of delegates to tell their constituents that they didn't vote for the raises they will get.
By rejecting all of the 11 different salary resolutions proposed to them during a three-hour meeting yesterday evening, most of the delegates present successfully managed to dance around the delicate problem of voting themselves a pay raise in an election year.
When it came time to vote on a resolution adopting the same exact pay scale that the legislators will probably receive, only 65 delegates voted to approve it, and 71 voted against it.
According to state law, since none of the various salary resolutions passed, the pay raises recommended by the state's General Asembly Compenstion Commission will automatically go into effect.
This commission recommended that the present legislative salaries of $12,500 be increased to $16,000 in the coming year, and that the salaries then be increased annually, reaching a level of $18,500 in 1982.
These salaries are intended to compensate legislators only for the three-month period when the General Assembly is in session, since almost all members of the Assembly hold a regular jobs or are self-employed during the nine months of the year when the legislature does not meet.
The special meeting on the salary question yesterday was filled with parliamentary byplay, particularly during the first 1 1/2 hours when it appeared that the resolution approving the commission-recommended salaries might actually get the 72 votes it needed to pass.
If this had happened, the delegates would have been in an awkward position of having actually voted themselves a pay raise.
At the same time, the approval would have emmbarrassed two Baltimore County legislators - one of them House Majority Leader John S. Arnick - who proposed the resolution only to force their fellow delegates to take position, but opposed the recommonded salaries.
"I never did and never have agreed with the (commission) report," Arnick said. "There was a large movement among the members of this House to take this pay raise (for themselves) through osmosis . . .so they could then run around saying, 'I didn't vote for this - they forced it on me.'"
A number of delegates spoke out in favor of the commission's recommendation. Del. Robert A. Jacques (D-Montgomery) told his colleagues, "Most of us certainly put in far more time than the three months that is officially called the session . . . If you are going to demand of people that they make a major commitment you should compensate them for that commitment.
"Many people here have lost promotions, good jobs, and good opportunities because they were here."
"You will drive out everyone who works for a living, who has to support a family, or who has financial pressure on them," Jacques added.
Arnick responded to that argument by saying, "The pay (recommended by the commission) is far too high . . ." he added that the legislature met only part of the year specifically so that it could be composed of ordinary citizens who had other interests.
"When this becomes a full-time job, when job security becomes the most important thing in the legislator's mind . . .then reason goes out the window," and all votes are made out of purely political motives, Arnick said.