Utah’s 104 part-time lawmakers should start getting an annual pay instead of a per-day pay come the end of this year, GOP leaders say.
The annual pay plan will not be an increase in actual reimbursement.
In fact, depending on how hard a legislator works and/or how many interim committees he attends, the change could end up being a pay cut for some of the more attentive legislators.
The change to an annual pay also has income tax impacts, and legislators could end up with less money in their pockets.
Still, GOP legislative leaders say, it is better to go to an annual pay scale, which provides more transparency in lawmaker compensation and fair comparisons with the salaries of legislators in other states.
The Legislative Compensation Commission, a volunteer group made up of citizens and former legislators, officially recommended the change before the 2012 Legislature began.
You can read a previous UtahPolicy story on this issue here.
Under Utah law, LCC recommendations become law unless the Legislature specifically votes down the recommendations or votes to reduce their pay.
Legislators can’t vote to raise their pay above LCC recommendations.
The debate over an annual legislative pay has been around for at least 20 years.
GOP House leaders even got the LCC to hold a special meeting a year ago to make the annual pay recommendation in what was an off-year salary consideration.
But Senate leaders wouldn’t go along with the idea last year, saying because the Senate is a much smaller body – 29 members compared to 75 – senators would actually be taking a pay cut through an annual pay plan because they attend more interim meetings than House members.
“I don’t care what we do” with legislative pay, Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, told UtahPolicy Wednesday, adding he’s given up his objections.
Waddoups has already announced his retirement at the end of this year, and so his pay will not be affected by the change.
The annual pay will take effect Jan. 1, 2013.
So if citizens disapprove of the new pay plan, they can vote their representative or senator out later this year.
Other Senate GOP leaders said they support the change, even though some issues must still be worked out.
Waddoups said he is worried that by taking away the per-day pay, some legislators will be less inclined to attend all of their assigned meetings, especially in the interim between general sessions.
LCC chairman Paul Williams, a local banker, told UtahPolicy earlier this year that technically, on average, a lawmaker’s pay will go from $7,020 per year to $16,380.
But when you add in the current per diem of $156 per day, the total compensation under the old and new systems is roughly equal.
The LCC figured that the $16,380 annual pay breaks out to be about 60 working days under the current system. Thus, legislators would, in effect, be getting paid for 45 days of the general session and 15 meetings during the interim.
If it turned out that in one year there were a number of special session or veto override days amounting to more than 60 work days, legislators wouldn’t be paid for those extra days.
As with the current pay system, legislators who live off the Wasatch Front and have a long way to travel to the Capitol, will still get mileage and actual hotel expenses reimbursed – following federal tax guidelines.
Because more of a legislator’s pay will be actual salary, and not per diem, Williams says the change to an annual salary will have federal and state income tax consequences, as well.
Some legislators will see less money in their pocket after taxes, he explained.
But Sens. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, and Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, members of Senate GOP leadership, both support the change.
Both men have relatively long distances to drive to attend Capitol Hill meetings.
“I pay for a hotel room” when he’s in Salt Lake City during the 45-day general session and interim day meetings, said Hillyard, who is the state’s senior lawmaker. He’s served 32 years between House and Senate terms.
“It is more fair to get a (annual) salary and be reimbursed for actual expenses, like mileage and rooms,” said Hillyard.
“I think it is a good move,” said Knudson.
Normally, the Legislature wouldn’t have to vote for any salary changes – since increases come automatically via the LCC recommendation unless rejected.
But House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, told UtahPolicy that some current compensation language likely has to be removed from state law before the annual salary plan can take effect.
Thus, while lawmakers will NOT be voting directly on their salaries, and the repeal bill won’t increase their pay, legislators will have to pass a bill to remove some old language in order for the $16,380 annual pay to start the first of next year.
Exactly how lawmakers will get checks is still in discussion, House staffers told UtahPolicy.
Currently, just before the 45-day annual session begins each legislator gets a check for the whole 45 days work, including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. (That per-day pay is outlined in the state Constitution.)
A number of legislators need that upfront cash, since they are taking leaves from their regular jobs and not getting paychecks from their private employers.
Thereafter, legislators get a monthly check for any official meetings they are paid for during the interim. If they don’t attend an interim meeting, they don’t get paid for it.
(Under the annual pay plan, lawmakers will get a salary regardless of whether they attend assigned meetings or not. Missed meetings, however, could harm their re-election efforts.)
It’s likely not feasible to pay a lawmaker his whole annual pay at the first of the year.
If he or she resigned during the year, some salary would have to be refunded.
Worse, if a legislator died his survivors would be asked to repay unearned salary – a touchy issue at such a sad time.
Accordingly, lawmakers likely will be paid in some kind of installments during the year, but not the bi-monthly paychecks that regular state employees get.