Commission Recommends Pay Hike for Legislators

Commission Recommends Pay Hike for Legislators

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Legislative Compensation Commission has recommended a $10 per day pay hike for legislators.

But the commission also recommended legislators take steps to make their true compensation more visible to taxpayers.

The commission also recommended that legislators giving the commission complete authority over all aspects of legislative compensation -- salary, benefits and per diem.

Commission Chairman Milton Thackeray said because the commission can only deal with pay, "We are giving the public the impression that we are setting all of (legislators') salaries and benefits; it's felonious."

If the commission is not given more authority over other areas of legislators' compensation, perhaps the commission should just be repealed in law and the Legislature should go back to setting its pay as it did previously.

The $10 per day hike -- to $130 from $120 a day -- is not out of line, considering that lawmakers rejected any pay raise for two years in the early 2000s when tax revenues were dwindling and no pay raises to full-time state employees were given, members of the commission said.

Some out-of-town legislators who take the newly offered actual-use hotel re-reimbursement will see their take-home pay increase by 42.5 percent, if the Legislature adopts the commission's recommendation to include the current $79-a-day each lawmaker receives for lodging expenses as part of the regular salary. That is paid whether legislators stay in a hotel or at home.

Combining the $10 hike with the hotel per diem into regular salary would make a legislator's pay $209 a day.

That might be a bit much, said House speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy. "Maybe in total, the pay should be at $175 a day with hotel re-reimbursement, not the $209. But ultimately that will up to the House and Senate."

The commission also recommends that each of the 16 members of elected leadership get $500 more a year in their leadership stipend.

A staff report prepared for the commission by the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget shows that when adding in the benefits legislators receive, including health care and retirement, overall some legislators' total compensation package exceeds $35,000 a year.

Commission member Robert Weatherbee said that when escalating health care and retirement benefits are figured in, legislators are getting generous annual benefit increases few Utahns know about.

"Health insurance (premiums) are growing at 8 to 10 percent a year," said Weatherbee, who described himself as self-employed and having to struggle with heath care costs each year. Almost all legislators sign up for the state's health care program.

"It's like a $12,000 pay hike in health and retirement for them," said Weatherbee.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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