MADISON (WKOW) -- Even though Wisconsin is facing a more than $5 billion budget shortfall, state lawmakers are getting a pay raise next year -- an extra $2,500 a year per lawmaker -- at a time when thousands are losing their jobs, and some people are foregoing pay raises just to stay employed.
Salaries will increase 5.3%, from $47,400 to $49,900. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, that makes Wisconsin lawmakers among the best paid in the nation. Only 8 states pay better -- California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey and Massachusetts -- and they're much bigger in terms of population.
Jay Heck with Common Cause Wisconsin says that's unacceptable.
"The legislature is supposed to lead by example," said Heck. "They're supposed to set the tone for the rest of the state. This is a time of sacrifice and economic downfalls."
Aside from the economic implications, Heck says the increase is undeserved, considering the recent partisan bickering, and failure to pass a budget on time.
"How that merits a pay raise of 5 percent after their performance the last legislative session, I think is pretty hard to explain," he said.
And they didn't even vote for it. Legislative leaders put the salary increase into place, without members voting on a bill.
"To simply take it and not have a roll call vote is very cowardly," said Heck. "The legislature could do anything. They could rescind the pay raise in a special session. They could make it the first order of business when they're sworn into office in early January."
Calls to several state lawmakers were not returned.
A spokesperson for Jim Doyle said the governor would not comment on the pay increase, and only said lawmakers should be accountable to voters.