Michigan redistricting commissioners give themselves a raise

Posted at 5:53 AM, Feb 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-25 05:53:40-05

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Members of Michigan’s redistricting commission voted Thursday to give themselves a 7% pay raise two months after finalizing new congressional and legislative maps that will last a decade.

The 13-member panel, which began meeting in 2020, continues to hold meetings — albeit much less frequently — while its lawyers defend against lawsuits challenging the plans.

The state constitutional amendment that created the commission says members must make at least $39,825 annually, a quarter of the governor’s salary. Commissioners voted last year to be paid $55,755 a year.

On an 8-3 vote, they approved a roughly $3,900 increase to nearly $60,000, describing it as a cost-of-living adjustment to account for high inflation.

All four Democrats and four of the five politically unaffiliated members backed the salary hike. Two Republicans and one unaffiliated commissioner voted no. Two Republicans who were absent from the virtual meeting had unsuccessfully tried to lower pay in January.

Supporters sought to justify the raise by saying some commissioners have no other job. Opponents said their pay should not rise as the workload diminishes.

Chair Rebecca Szetela, who backed the increase by pointing to inflation, told reporters the commission may reduce salaries as “we enter into more of a latency phase.” The panel is seeking a legal opinion to clarify how long members’ terms last, she said. The constitution says they expire once the commission has finished its duties for the census cycle but not before legal challenges are over.

Szetela said she has suggested moving to a per diem system, but that may not be allowed because of the minimum salary requirement. The panel is continuing to explore that option, she said.

“We’re trying to be fiscally responsible and be good stewards of the public’s money,” she said.

FAIR Maps, a conservative group that has been critical of the commission, said the eight commissioners who OK’d the raise should resign.

“Sadly, as we’ve repeatedly seen from this body, they’re accountable to no one, incapable of shame or even basic levels of competence, and now gleefully padding their bank accounts at the expense of Michigan taxpayers,” executive director Tony Daunt said. “This is an outrageous development and I encourage Michiganders of all stripes to speak up and demand a reversal of this action.”

The panel is facing a $1.2 million budget shortfall, which executive director Suann Hammersmith attributed largely to litigation costs. It will soon ask the Legislature for additional funding, she said, saying lawmakers are constitutionally required to “provide for this commission what it needs to defend the maps.”

Rep. Greg VanWoerkom, a Norton Shores Republican who chairs the House subcommittee that funds the panel, criticized the salary boost.

“Already running a deficit, the Legislature and taxpayers will have plenty of questions should they come asking for more funding,” he said.