It’s probably not the best time to be looking at raises for elected officials, but that doesn’t mean the law should be ignored.

A state panel – or part of one, anyway – is meeting this week to consider pay questions for judges, state legislators and executive officials such as the governor. Its recommendations go into effect unless they don’t because the General Assembly steps in.

Is this as clear as mud? The big picture is this: In our system of government, we elect people to listen to us, learn the issues, negotiate with one another – and make decisions. Too often in our state, elected officials duck decisions, so issues from gambling to stem cells, from gun rights to billboards go to the voters with ballot language that rarely gives them the chance to speak clearly or decisively. It’s a cowardly way of making public policy, but it’s how we got to this point.

Legislators won’t stand up and say, “This is the job, this is what it ought to pay, and I’ll support it and take the heat.” Instead, we have a voter-approved constitutional amendment to shield legislators from the heat. It creates a commission, mostly appointees by the governor, but also one retired judge and several randomly selected registered voters.

By law, the commission meets every other year, holds hearings and deliberates. The 2006 go-round led to the legislators’ raises set to go into effect Jan. 1. That raise of 14.5 percent – to $35,915 – is supposed to make up for several years of no raises.

Any recommendations by the commission meeting right now would go into effect July 1, 2009, unless legislators block them, as they have in the past. The trouble this time is that Gov. Matt Blunt has chosen not even to name his 12 commissioners, although the others are in place and are meeting. His office says there’s no need for raises.

That’s probably true, given the state’s currently declining revenues and the expectation that a sour economy will raise the demand for state programs from jobless benefits to Medicaid. But it’s not the governor’s call. His job is to follow the law and let his appointees do their job.

It’s kind of like reviewing the state Constitution itself. We’re on our fourth state constitution, the one adopted in 1945. It has served us well. Nonetheless, that document calls for the voters to be asked every 20 years if we should have a constitutional convention and start over. The last time we voted, in 2002, there was no organized drive for change, and two-thirds of the voters said to leave things alone. There was no serious prospect of change, but following the law – following an agreed-upon process – matters greatly in the American experiment in self-government.