Thanks to a 2010 law passed by lawmakers governing their own salaries, members of Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly currently receive 5 percent raises on their salaries twice a year, while other public workers receive 0.43 percent. Given Costa Rica’s burgeoning fiscal deficit and the public’s less-than-stellar opinion of politicians during this election year, some incoming lawmakers say their parties will support a revision of the law that will bring those salary raises back down to the same percentage as everyone else in the public sector.
If politicians stay true to their word, a majority of 57 lawmakers-elect – who will join the Assembly in May – say they will support the reform.
The Lawmakers’ Salary Law, approved by current Assembly members at the start of their term, establishes two annual wage increases of 5 percent in May and November.
The last increase in November totaled ₡171,000 ($320), meaning lawmakers’ current monthly salaries total ₡3,596,000 ($6,780). The next automatic hike in May will raise lawmakers’ salaries to ₡3.7 million ($6,980) per month.
That’s an interesting figure when you consider that wage hikes for the rest of public employees are set by a calculation that takes into account inflation and other economic indicators. The approved increase for the first half of this year for public employees who are not lawmakers was 0.43 percent. Don’t think the workers took it lightly, however. A measly 0.43 percent raise caused unrest, public strikes and demonstrations, acts that lame-duck President Laura Chinchilla called “shameful.”
José María Villalta, currently a lawmaker and a former contender for the presidential office from the Broad Front Party, this week presented a plan to eliminate automatic salary increases for legislators, saying, “There is no justification for such disproportionate salary increases for lawmakers compared to those received by other public-sector workers.”
Villalta acknowledged, however, that passage of the bill to kill Assembly salary hikes isn’t guaranteed during the current legislative period. But he said future Broad Front Party lawmakers promised the proposal would be included in a list of priorities for the next legislative period in May.
Rolando González, a legislator-elect from the National Liberation Party (PLN), on Wednesday said PLN lawmakers would support the initiative, as did Emilia Molina, who will represent the Citizen Action Party (PAC) in the Assembly.
Molina said “informal conversations have taken place between lawmakers from various parties” to modify all necessary laws for establishing Assembly wage increases. Those raises, she said, should be calculated the same as for all public employees.
In the Feb. 2 elections, the PLN won 18 seats in the Assembly, followed by the PAC with 13, and the Broad Front Party, with 9. If the soon-to-be politicians keep their word, the bill should garner a majority of votes required for its approval.
We’re holding our breath.