After years of discussion, Utah lawmakers may finally stop getting reimbursed for hotel rooms they don’t use and meals they don’t eat, but legislators, especially from rural Utah, could see a pay raise.
Under the long-standing practice, legislators have been paid $117 per day each day they’re in session or attending meetings and have received a $95 allowance for lodging and $61 per diem for meals.
Currently, lawmakers receive the lodging payment even if they sleep in their own bed — as many do — or if their meals are purchased for them, as is often the case during the legislative session. Several legislators who live near the Capitol reject the compensation.
Under the proposed change, legislators would be paid a lump sum of $16,380 a year — an average of $273 a day for 60 days — for the 45-day session and additional meetings during the year. That is the current $117 salary plus the two per diems. On top of that, they would get reimbursed for any actual meals, lodging or travel expenses incurred.
That means a legislator along the Wasatch Front who was pocketing the per diem and lodging will still get $273 a day, but it will be in a lump sum.
Those living outside of the Wasatch Front who have had to pay for lodging or rooms now will get the full $273 a day, plus the per diem, meaning they would be seeing an increase in compensation to the tune of $156.
Part-time legislators receive health benefits similar to full-time state employees. The state pays 90 percent of the premium.
The independent Legislative Compensation Committee recommended the lump-sum payment and the House has embraced it, but the Senate had not.
House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said the salary issue has taken hours of negotiations with the Senate, but now it is nearing a resolution. He said it is a question of equity and transparency.
"I want it all there," Dee said. "I want all my constituents to know if this should go through, next year it’s a whopping [$16,380] that legislators make and those who come and spend money for hotels and meals [get reimbursed]."
Under Utah law, the recommendations of the compensation commission will kick in unless legislators pass a bill to reject the raise. They have refused the raise during the past several years.
Senate Republicans are scheduled to discuss the issue in their caucus this week.
"I’m personally still in favor of the change," said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. "I just think it makes more sense. You get paid what you’re being paid and then you get reimbursed for the rest."
Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, said the change in salary is a good step.
"It pays you for your service and recognizes that there may be a cost incurred," he said. "At the same time, it treats all legislators the same in terms of pay for their service as a legislator."
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