State lawmakers and some local politicians are considering raising their own salaries in 2014 — proposals that supporters say might have more traction now that Maryland is a few years out of the recession.
This week, a state commission recommended increasing part-time state lawmakers' pay to more than $50,000 by 2018, a 15 percent increase over four years. Another state panel recommended boosting the next governor's pay gradually until 2018 to $180,000, a 20 percent increase.
The biggest raise next year in the Baltimore region — $25,000 — could go to the next Baltimore County executive, who would make $175,000. This week, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz proposed legislation that would grant that raise next December, and the County Council introduced a bill that would boost the council's pay by roughly 16 percent.
In Anne Arundel County, a 3 percent annual raise in each of the next four years has been recommended for council members. And next month, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie-Rawlings Blake and City Council members are scheduled to get an automatic 2.5 percent annual pay raise.
The possibility of salary increases comes as elected officials prepare for campaigning in 2014, and political observers say it is likely to be a sensitive topic as some constituents continue to struggle financially.
"When people are still hurting, and the economy is limping along, you know that voters are going to watch even more closely whether [officials] vote themselves a raise," said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. "In an election year, they are going to have to think: Is this is going to hurt my chances to get re-elected?"
Proponents of higher pay note that many elected officials work long hours and haven't seen bigger paychecks in years. It's been eight years since raises have been granted in the General Assembly and Baltimore County, and more than a decade in Anne Arundel.
"The County Council is a very demanding job," said Baltimore County Council Chairman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, adding that members sometimes work 10- to 12-hour days even though a council position is considered part-time. "You have community events in the evening, and you have lots of meetings during the day."
In Maryland, it is commonplace for independent commissions to make recommendations on pay for elected officials to then approve or reject, said Michael Sanderson, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties. The idea is to provide a political buffer and to ensure that pay is based on objective factors, not self-interest.
Some commissions, including on the state level, have recommended pay raises in recent years, but elected officials didn't approve them, citing economic woes. In 2010, a panel recommended that state lawmakers get a raise only if the unemployment rate drops below 5 percent — an economic benchmark the state has yet to reach.
Under the most recent recommendation from the state commission, which is appointed by the governor and presiding officers, lawmakers' pay would increase by $1,707 each year from 2015 to 2018. The 188 lawmakers maintain offices year-round and must be in Annapolis full time between January and early April when the Assembly convenes.
The panel looking at the governor's pay also proposed raising the next lieutenant governor's salary from $125,000 to $149,000 over the next four years.
The next time the state pay commissions convene is in 2018. House Speaker Michael E. Busch called the recommendations "a fair increase" and said the Assembly should act on them this session.
"You either have to do it this year or it doesn't happen for another four years," Busch said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller backs a pay increase for Maryland lawmakers. Assembly members voted down the last two proposed pay raises, and the latest proposal comes after a 2011 change that required lawmakers to increase their pension contributions to 7 percent from 5 percent of their pay.
"When combined with the proposed pension reforms, it seems reasonable," Miller said.
In Baltimore County, the council is set to vote next month on a raise of $25,000 for the county executive, which would bring the salary to $175,000 beginning next December. Council members would get $8,500 raises, to $62,500, and the council chair a $10,000 raise, to $70,000.
The county proposal was recommended by an advisory board, which includes one member elected by certain employees and four appointed by the county executive. While the bill to raise the executive's pay was introduced at Kamenetz's request, spokeswoman Lauren Byrd said in an email that he has "no input into those recommendations" and no position on the legislation.
If approved, the Baltimore County increases would take effect when a new term begins. Most of the council's seven members are expected to run for re-election next year. Kamenetz is eligible for a second term, but hasn't announced whether he will run.
The Baltimore County measure drew criticism from Norman Anderson, president of AFSCME Local 921, which represents county employees such as snowplow drivers, custodial workers and parks and recreation field personnel.
"I'd love to sit down and tell people they're going get such a nice increase and not have to wait years to get it," Anderson said.
He said union members are scheduled to get a 3 percent bonus in 2014 — a one-time annual increase to be replaced by a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment in 2015.
John Ripley, president of the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, said he is reviewing the county legislation. He said he wasn't surprised by the proposal, but a big raise for elected officials won't look good when many workers are struggling.
"I don't think it's particularly shocking; it's the optics of it in this down economy," said Ripley, whose union represents employees including correctional officers and emergency dispatchers.
The median household income for Maryland families fell in 2009, but grew about 4.5 percent to about $71,000 in 2012, census data shows.
Salaries for elected officials vary greatly across the state — from $14,000 for council members in Talbot County to more than $100,000 for council members in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
Busch noted that several county state's attorneys make double the $125,000 the Maryland attorney general now earns. The county executives of Prince George's and Montgomery counties make about $180,000 a year, more than Gov. Martin O'Malley's annual paycheck of $125,000. The governor also is provided transportation and receives housing in the state-owned mansion.
Ken Ulman, the running mate on Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown's gubernatorial ticket, would take a pay cut from his $171,309 annual salary as Howard County executive if elected lieutenant governor.
"They're all talented people," Busch said. "If you want to attract people to run for public office, you need to compensate them. The counties have recognized it."
Not all elected officials have forgone raises over the past few years. According to data from the Maryland Association of Counties and the state Department of Legislative Services, pay for council members in Harford and Prince George's counties, as well as in Baltimore City, grew more than 5 percent from 2009 to 2013. Members of the Montgomery County Council will earn 10 percent more next year than in 2009.
In Anne Arundel County, the county executive makes $130,000, and council members are paid $36,000. The council chair is paid $40,500. A commission composed of county residents recently recommended a 3 percent annual raise in each of the next four years for council members.
The commission also suggested giving council members a $350 monthly car allowance and allowing them to get the same health insurance benefits as other part-time county employees. The commission was not charged with reviewing the executive's salary.
Anne Arundel Council Chairman John Grasso said council members haven't discussed whether they will consider voting for a raise, but he doesn't think a bill is likely. "We haven't really given any real thought to it," said Grasso, a Republican from Glen Burnie.
Grasso said that while council positions are part-time jobs, they require full-time hours — if done right. Council members attend neighborhood meetings, help solve community issues and deal with constituent concerns.
"They say it's a part-time job. It's a pretty good paid part-time job," he said. "But if you really, really care, it's far more than a part-time job."
Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.