Lawmakers should scrap compensation boards

The State Capitol dome is illuminated by the sunset in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The State Capitol dome is illuminated by the sunset in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

After years of debate, locally and at the Statehouse, Iowa lawmakers are on the verge of scrapping county compensation boards, panels that recommend salary increases for county elected officials.

We’ve long questioned the need for compensation boards, and we believe the House bill dumping them is long overdue.

For us, it’s an issue of accountability. If state lawmakers want a pay raise, they must vote on it and make it fit into their budget plans. Same goes for city councils. The elected officials in charge of crafting budget plans are the ones who must make the call on pay raises.

But at the county level, compensation boards appointed by supervisors and other elected officials recommend pay increases for those same officials. Supervisors can accept, reduce or reject the recommendations.

We see no compelling reason to keep this unnecessary step in the process. County supervisors are in charge of making countless major decisions as they write annual budgets. Pay should be no exception. Putting a buffer between supervisors and that budgetary responsibility may serve the interests of elected officials, but it does little for taxpayers.

We’re not suggesting compensation boards have been reckless. Statewide, according to data collected by the Iowa Association of Counties, pay increases for elected officials have averaged just more than 3 percent annually over the past five years. Still, those raises considerably outpaced the Consumer Price index, which rose, on average, 1.1 percent between 2013 and 2016. Iowa’s median household income increased just over 1.3 percent annually, on average, from 2013 to 2015.

Backers of compensation boards point to the system’s checks and balances, keeping elected supervisors from punishing their political opponents by slashing their paychecks. We believe the check on such behavior will be in the hands of county voters.


One aspect of the current system we appreciate is the fact supervisors must openly debate and vote on compensation board recommendations. But we still expect elected officials’ pay to remain an issue that gets plenty of attention, with or without compensation boards, as it has in Linn County the better part of the last decade.

We would have preferred a bill that allowed county voters to make the final call on keeping or scrapping compensation boards. But short of that, we urge the Senate to pass the House legislation.

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