Lawmakers will have to vote to give themselves a pay raise in 2018

Utah’s part-time 104 lawmakers will get the chance in the upcoming 2018 Legislature to approve a pay raise for themselves – upwards of 13 percent if they so choose.

Lawmakers turned down the chance to give themselves pay raises in the 2014 Legislature.

The Legislative Compensation Commission will officially recommend two kinds of pay raises, as this Salt Lake Tribune report outlines.

The commission’s final report, probably not written until some time in December, will likely have a few small changes to the Tribune numbers, but the overall effect won’t change much, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, which staffs the commission, told UtahPolicy on Monday.

Currently, lawmakers are paid $273 a day.

Commissioners are considering recommending an increase to $285 a day.

They also suggest that lawmakers paid days go from 60 days a year to 65 days a year – because currently, many legislators do official work beyond the 60-paid-day limit.

Lawmakers can accept the commission’s recommendation, vote to reduce the recommendation to some lower level, or reject the pay raise altogether. They can’t give themselves a pay raise higher than the commission’s recommendation.

If they don’t act they won’t get a pay raise at all.

If in the 2018 Legislature lawmakers take the daily pay increase AND the increase in the number of paid days, their average pay would go from $16,380 a year to $18,525 a year, or the 13 percent increase.

That may sound like a considerable percentage increase. But it is generally agreed that Utah lawmakers donate considerable unpaid time to their official jobs.

And, over time, as legislative pay has lagged behind Utah wage growth.

Any number of full-time working Utahns can no longer afford to serve as legislators – they just can’t afford it financially – since they have to take off 45 days from their jobs during the January-March general session and at least two days a month the rest of the year for interim study days.

In addition, many legislators – especially the 29 senators – also have to take off additional days to serve on special committees, task forces, and such.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, told UtahPolicy on Monday that he hopes lawmakers “will consider some kind” of pay hike “in a positive way” during the 2018 Legislature.

“We tend to put off incremental (pay raises) and then we get way behind,” he said.

“It would be better to follow inflation increases” as they come, Niederhauser added, rather than put off pay raises until the commission recommends a large percentage hike to catch up.

The Utah commission surveys part-time legislative pay across the states, health insurance, and other coverages offered and then makes recommendations every two years.

But so far Utah legislative leaders have not discussed pay raises for lawmakers, nor taken the commission’s proposals to their respective caucuses.

Finally, while the perks of serving as a legislator are side benefits to low pay, lawmakers have reduced the number of “extras” previously offered by lobbyists and other special interests.

Over the last five sessions or so lawmakers have reworked both their pay and what kind of “gifts,” including meals, they can accept.

The Associated Press outlined the changes – and the new loopholes, if you want to call them that – in this 2017 Legislature report.