Debate over an increase in legislative pay Monday night turned into a heated back-and-forth between Missouri senators and Gov. Eric Greitens, with some lawmakers accusing the governor of trying to intimidate their colleagues to get his way.
The Senate debated for more than seven hours whether to turn down an $1,800 pay increase over the next two years. Lawmakers currently make roughly $36,000 a year, plus a $104 a day per diem for miscellaneous costs such as food and lodging.
Ultimately, the pay increase was rejected just before midnight on a 25-2 vote. Six senators recused themselves.
But while the Senate was debating, Greitens was camped out in the Capitol office of Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, a Joplin Republican. One by one, GOP senators rumored to be supportive of the pay raise were called in to talk with the Republican governor.
Those conversations were apparently less than cordial.
State Sen. Paul Wieland, a Jefferson County Republican, said he didn’t think the governor treated him with respect during their meeting.
“Intimidation is probably the best word,” Wieland said, later adding: “I felt insulted.”
State Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican, called the tone of his meeting “tense.”
Wieland and Hoskins were the two senators who voted in support of the pay increase. Republican Sens. Ryan Silvey of Kansas City, Bill Eigel of St. Charles County and Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph joined Democrats Jason Holsman of Kansas City, Kiki Curls of Kansas City and Maria Chappelle-Nadal of University City in recusing themselves. They argued it was a conflict of interest for lawmakers to vote on their own pay. House members voted against the pay raises last week.
Holsman said Greitens’ lobbying tactics went too far.
“I take offense, and every senator should take offense, that he was up here trying to intimidate and insult senators to get a result on a vote,” Holsman said. “Governor, please respect the Senate.”
Chappelle-Nadal demanded that Greitens apologize, at one point even hinting on Twitter that the governor’s behavior could come up when the Senate votes on his appointments to state departments.
Between meetings with senators, Greitens used Twitter to bash the idea of a legislative pay increase at a time when the state faces a budget shortfall.
“Politicians in our Senate are now considering a pay raise,” Greitens tweeted. “This is outrageous. They need to stand up & stop this pay raise for politicians.”
He later called lawmakers voting themselves a pay increase “typical, and awful.”
Curls said the governor’s rhetoric wasn’t productive.
“When I explain to the folks back home that we make $36,000 a year and haven’t had a pay increase in almost 10 years, they’re shocked,” she said. “So tweets that say it’s typical of us to raise our own pay, we’ve voted pay raises down every time.”
A citizen panel recommends pay for legislators and statewide elected officials in Missouri. But lawmakers can vote to block any raises from going into effect. The last time legislators and statewide elected officials received a pay increase was 2009.
Curls says she worries that low pay will keep many people from ever being able to afford to serve in the Missouri legislature.
“The Senate,” she said, “is becoming a place for the social and economic elite.”
After the Senate vote to turn down the pay raise, Greitens returned to Twitter to celebrate.
“Great victory for taxpayers tonight — no pay increase for politicians!” he tweeted. “It’s time to focus on more jobs & higher pay for the people.”