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Missouri senators reject raises for themselves, statewide officials

Missouri senators reject raises for themselves, statewide officials

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Updated at 4 p.m. Tuesday with a response from Gov. Eric Greitens.

JEFFERSON CITY • The Missouri Senate blocked raises for legislators and statewide elected officials Monday evening, but not before quashing a coordinated revolt in the ranks.

Six senators — three Democrats and three Republicans — recused themselves from a resolution rejecting pay increases recommended by a citizens commission in December, saying voting on their own raises created a conflict of interest.

If another five senators had recused themselves or voted against the resolution, it would have fallen short of the two-thirds majority it needed and the raises would have passed.

But after seven hours of dissension and debate over Senate rules and parliamentary maneuvers, the chamber passed the resolution against the raises 25-2. 

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Senators and representatives would have seen a 2.5 percent salary increase in each of the next two years, bringing their salaries up to $37,733. Their daily allowances would have risen, too, from $114 to $150.

Statewide officials would have received 8 percent bumps: Gov. Eric Greitens would have gotten $156,089 in 2019, a $22,000 hike.

The vote saves the state $2.9 million between 2018 and 2020, a welcome cut for a state grappling with a projected $456 million budget shortfall this year.

It also spares legislators and statewide officials the embarrassment of seeing their own salaries go up while state employees remain the worst-paid in the nation.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe saw trouble afoot after the sixth senator, Kansas City Democrat Kiki Curls, recused herself and he stopped proceedings to regroup. 

When he came back and objected to Kansas City Republican Sen. Ryan Silvey's recusal, the body ground to a halt and many senators left the floor. 

Those remaining vented frustration at tactics they saw as trying to hide desires for pay raises.

Sen. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa, called those opting out of voting "cowards."

"I think what is going on here is sleazy," Wasson said. "I hope the wrath of the people comes back to bite them and I think it will."

Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, said their arguments made no sense. 

"They're saying taking a bribe and rejecting a bribe are morally equivalent," Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, said. "If they want the pay raise, they can vote no. That's what we do when we have the courage of our convictions."

Then Greitens weighed in.

At first, the governor listened to the debate in Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard's office and spoke out against the raises on Twitter.

Then Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, came back to the floor and said Greitens was calling people into Richard's office and "twisting their arms" to vote against the raises. 

When all senators returned to the chamber around 11 p.m., a visibly angry Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, railed against what he called a violation of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government. 

When he asked Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, to describe his meeting with Greitens, Wieland said the atmosphere was "tense" and that the governor tried to intimidate him.

"Every senator in here should take offense to the fact that the (governor) was up here trying to intimidate and insult senators to try to get a result on a vote that he didn't agree with," Holsman said.

St. Louis Democrats Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal and Sen. Jamilah Nasheed called for an apology. Instead, Greitens forcefully rebuked Wieland and Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, who both voted for raises, in a Facebook post Tuesday afternoon. 

"Senators Wieland and Hoskins owe the people an answer," he wrote. "They complained that it wasn't my place to interfere on behalf of Missourians, and that I was a bit too rough with them. ... Will I apologize that we saved taxpayer's money last night? No."

The House overwhelmingly approved the resolution earlier this month, passing the resolution 154 to 5. 

Austin Huguelet 573-556-6184

@ahuguelet on Twitter

ahuguelet@post-dispatch.com

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