Upcoming election makes proposed pay hike tricky for legislators

Independent commission says a pay raise is overdue; but lawmakers say enacting one could be politically touchy.<br>

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) The House Chamber in session at the State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, Friday, February 28, 2014.

While an independent commission says Utah lawmakers should give themselves an overdue pay raise, legislative leaders say members might not want to take on that politically tricky issue during the upcoming election year.

“It’s a tough time to be talking about that,” House Speaker Greg Hughes said after the compensation commission formally presented its recommendations Tuesday to the Executive Appropriations Committee.

When Senate President Wayne Niederhauser was asked what chance he gives of passing a pay raise during the upcoming election year, he said, “50-50. There’s a chance. It’s hard to say.”

Utah lawmakers have not increased their pay since 2013.

The commission now proposes to raise legislative pay from $273 daily to $285. It says that “roughly corresponds to cost of living increases since the last raise in 2013.”

That could increase their potential pay now of $16,380 now by $720 a year, or 4.4. percent.

The commission also recommends expanding the definition of what qualifies as workdays that may be compensated. Currently, lawmakers are paid for up to 60 days a year, which include the 45-day general session, interim meetings, training days and any other days spent on official business approved by legislative leaders.

“I know I spend a lot of uncompensated time in meetings up here,” Niederhauser said. Still, he said lawmakers should limit the number of days they could be paid “because we don’t want to give anyone an excuse to come up here just to be paid.”

Hughes says he supports the recommendations from the commission, but that his Republican caucus has not yet discussed it.

“I think that the job is getting harder, the hours are getting longer and the budget is getting higher. I would support the committee recommendations, but recognize there is a lot of politics to that,” Hughes said.

As Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, Senate chairman of the Executive Appropriations Committee, half-joked, “Most of my constituents think that I am drastically overpaid.”

Niederhauser said he supports smaller, more frequent cost-of-living raises for lawmakers “instead of a big bump every five or 10 years. Eventually we are going to have to adjust this.”

The proposal now goes to all members of the Legislature for their consideration.

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