Utah lawmakers trying to change pay structure

Utah lawmakers trying to change their pay structure and allow for reimbursements

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah lawmakers could soon approve legislation that will change the way they are paid, giving a slight pay boost to those who commute long distances to the Capitol.

Utah's lawmakers are currently paid $273 a day while the Legislature is in session or when they are called to an official meeting. Of that daily amount, $117 is salary, while $61 is set aside for meals and $95 for lodging.

But for years, lawmakers that live close to the Capitol have been able to keep the lodging and food per diem, regardless of whether they stayed in a hotel or ate out.

Many lawmakers said that system is unfair to those who travel greater distances to the state Capitol in Salt Lake City.

"This bill is long overdue," said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. "This bill corrects, I think, an egregious problem of legislators receiving money for hotels that they don't stay in, for meals that they don't buy and sometimes for miles that they don't drive."

The new proposal would still give lawmakers $273 per day, but all of that would be salary. The bill would then allow legislators needing lodging or meals to submit receipts for reimbursement. Those receipts would be subject to approval before lawmakers could be refunded.

The legislation, which would cost $150,000 annually, evens out pay for all lawmakers and increases salary for those that commute long distances and incur costs such as hotel stays while serving.

House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, sponsored the legislation and hopes the Senate approves it on Friday, which will make it effective Saturday.

The change would create a much more transparent system with a paper trail, Dee said.

"It becomes full disclosure and it is the way we should do things as a Legislative body," he told lawmakers in the House on Tuesday.

Members of the Senate held a preliminary debate on the proposal Thursday and spoke in support of the measure.

Democratic Sen. Patricia Jones, who lives in Salt Lake City, said she felt it would be much fairer.

"I've always felt uncomfortable being paid per diem because I live in Salt Lake County," she said.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said he has to use his more of his pay than others because he travels about 80 miles to the Capitol.

He doesn't mind "taking a small financial sacrifice by serving here," but he wants to support the change so anyone taking his place can afford to serve.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said lawmakers should take it a step further to raise their pay "to the level where common working men and women in our community would be able to come up and serve."

One of the biggest obstacles to recruiting candidates for the Legislature is the low salary, which few of them can afford to live on, he said.

Members of the Legislature cannot choose their own salary. They can only vote to accept a recommendation by a commission that sets lawmaker pay.

That commission, which is made of up seven people appointed by the governor, has recommended lawmakers adopt this change to the pay structure for several years.

Last year, the change was introduced at the Legislature last year but failed to pass.

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Follow Michelle L. Price at http://twitter.com/michellelprice

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