PIERRE - State legislators are discussing whether to cut their pay and reduce salaries for state constitutional officers and the Public Utilities Commission.
Driving the discussions are the 15 percent cut that Gov. Dennis Daugaard voluntarily took in his salary and the salary reductions he imposed throughout his Cabinet and the governor's office staff as part of closing a state government budget deficit estimated by Daugaard to be $127 million in 2012.
Rep. Mark Willadsen, R-Sioux Falls, confirmed Wednesday he's circulating legislation that calls for a 10 percent cut next year in legislators' $6,000 annual salaries.
He said the $600 cut would be for the 2012 session and would put legislators personally in line with the governor's recommendations that general fund spending be reduced by at least 10 percent throughout state government for the 2012 budget.
The Legislature already plans to reduce its budget by 10 percent. Willadsen said his proposal would be on top of that cut.
“I brought this up to be responsible and do our share,” he said. “I don't think we're asking state government to do anything that families and business haven't been doing the last couple of years.”
During a series of budget hearings in the past few days, all of the constitutional officers and the PUC have fallen into line with the governor's recommendation that they cut 10 percent from the general funds portion of their proposed 2012 budgets.
None of them definitely intends to follow Daugaard's lead and cut his salary, however.
The standard salary is $78,363 apiece for Secretary of State Jason Gant, Treasurer Rich Sattgast, Auditor Steve Barnett and School and Public Lands Commissioner Jarrod Johnson, while the standard amount for PUC members Steve Kolbeck, Gary Hanson and Chris Nelson is $91,390 apiece.
Sattgast, Barnett, Kolbeck, Hanson, and Nelson have said either publicly or in response to follow-up from a reporter that they aren't voluntarily cutting their pay. Gant's testimony was unclear on the point, and he hasn't responded yet to a reporter's follow-up.
Johnson originally said Friday he wasn't cutting his salary but Wednesday opened the door back up to the possibility.
Various senior legislators have asked several of them questions that have been atypically pointed regarding salaries and benefit payouts, including those paid to some specific staff members, during budget hearings by the Joint Committee on Appropriations.
A 1946 constitutional amendment, still in effect, granted the Legislature the authority to set or change salaries for constitutional officers, including members of the Legislature. A two-thirds majority would be required in each chamber.
Lands commissioner Johnson originally proposed holding his budget at current levels but was told by appropriations co-chairmen to bring back a new plan. He did so Wednesday with the 10 percent cut in general funds.
Johnson's deputy, Justin Ohleen, said Wednesday they haven't decided yet how to accomplish the $42,000 change. He said the options range from salary cuts, including reducing Johnson's pay, to eliminating one of the office's seven positions.
Sattgast, who was auditor for the past eight years, was directed by the appropriations committee to submit a list of salaries for his staff and the salaries paid in the office during the past two budget years by the then-treasurer, Vern Larson.
The legislators' questions, and the detailed knowledge exhibited in some cases behind the questions, put several officials on edge during budget hearings Friday and Monday.
PUC members and several constitutional officers in turn have said they weren't requested by the governor to cut their salaries.
Kolbeck and Sattgast told legislators the governor receives benefits beyond his $98,031 salary, implying they, therefore, shouldn't be held to the standard he set in cutting his salary and the pay of his Cabinet and staff.
Several legislators on the appropriations panel said Wednesday they don't think the pay issue is finished regarding the constitutional officers and the PUC.