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Smell Test: Smith, Muri each put pay at issue in congressional race

Post by Kris Sherman / The News Tribune on Oct. 13, 2010 at 5:03 pm | 6 Comments »
October 14, 2010 2:43 pm

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, and Pierce County Councilman Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, are trading barbs over pay in their race for Congress. Here’s a look at them.

The Claims:

Adam Smith criticizes Pierce County Councilman Dick Muri for voting to raise his own pay. “Dick Muri is a politician who wants a promotion,” a Smith ad says. “But his record on the Pierce County Council shows he doesn’t deserve one. In fact, about the only thing Muri has accomplished on the council is to dramatically increase the pay for himself and other county politicians…” The Smith ad says Muri’s pay has gone up to $110,000.

Dick Muri’s campaign responded, that Smith’s salary – thanks to automatic pay raises – has gone up from 34 percent since he was elected “and now tops $176,000.”

The facts:

Muri’s pay: In 2006, Muri voted with the council majority in approving a 21 percent raise for then-County Executive John Ladenburg, effective Jan. 1, 2007. Council salaries are pegged at 60 percent of the executive¹s pay, so the action did effectively raise members’ pay.

However, a sitting council member can’t benefit from a pay raise during the term in which it was approved. Through most of his council service, Muri got the automatic 3 percent cost of living raise the executive got every year. His pay took a big jump in 2009 because he was reelected in 2008, making him eligible for the previous hike tied to Ladenburg’s big pay bump.
Here’s Muri’s base council pay by year served (a car allowance makes it a few thousand dollars higher than this in each year):

2006 $79,076
2007 $81,449
2008 $83,982
2009 $101,425*
2010 $104,468

*reflects Ladenburg-tied raise.

Muri’s pay, with car allowance, totaled about $111,000 in 2009, a year with one more pay period than normal.

Smith’s pay: Has gone up from $133,600 in 1997, his first year in Congress, to $174,000 in 2010.

Members of Congress do benefit from automatic cost of living increases – unless they take action to block the pay hike, a vote sometimes taken in an election year.

In the most recent cases, Congress voted to freeze its pay in 2006 for 2007; in 2009 for 2010; and again this year for 2011.

Smith votes and actions over the last several years show he worked in 2005 to block a pay raise for 2006, but that effort failed. He agreed in 2007 to affirm a pay raise for 2008. He voted in 2009 to block the 2010 pay hike and earlier this year to freeze pay for 2011.

Here’s how Congress’ pay has risen since Smith took office:

1997 $133,600
1998 $136,700
2000 $141,300
2001 $145,100
2002 $150,000
2003 $154,700
2004 $158,100
2005 $162,100
2006 $165,200
2007 $165,200
2008 $169,300
2009 $174,000
2010 $174,000

The bottom line:

Smith claims about Muri: Partially true: Muri’s vote to increase Ladenburg’s pay also resulted in a hefty pay hike for Muri, but only after he was reelected. Muri voted against raises for the auditor, assessor-treasurer and sheriff in 2007, but he was in the minority, and the raises were approved.

Muri’s claims about Smith’s pay: Partially true. Smith’s salary rose from $133,600 to $174,000 over 14 years. He benefitted from automatic pay raises that take effect unless members of Congress specifically vote to block them. Smith took some votes to do just that and worked unsuccessfully in other years to halt the pay hikes.

Something fishy? Having trouble sorting out the facts from the spin in political speeches, TV ads and mailers? Our political team is ready to fact-check this season’s campaign. Send your questions to Political Smell Test. For an archive of previous Smell Tests, click here.

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