As the Pueblo Chieftain’s Patrick Malone reports today:
The Colorado House of Representatives quietly and without debate passed a bill on Wednesday that would raise the daily pay of lawmakers who live outside of Denver by 22 percent.
Pay for non-metro members of the Legislature would climb to $183 per day from $150 a day on July 1 under HB1301, which deals with appropriations for the Legislature. It is sponsored by House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs.
The pay raise would cost taxpayers an additional $189,420 to benefit 41 of the 100 members of the General Assembly, according to nonpartisan Legislative Council Staff.
McNulty said he wouldn’t call the measure a pay raise…
First of all, we’re not going to criticize this for the reasons you’re probably expecting. The fact is, as we have said many, many times, and sometimes unpopularly, Colorado legislators are underpaid. We would say the problem extends beyond legislators to statewide elected officials, whose salary is often dwarfed by subordinate employees in their office–not to mention the private-sector equivalents to their positions that would doubtless pay much more.
For two years lawmakers have deferred the raise. The General Assembly passed a law separate of the legislative appropriations bill in 2010 that delayed implementation of the increase by postponing implementation of a 2008 law that raised per-diem.
“Costs have gone up over that time,” McNulty said.
He said the increase in per-diem can still be postponed. But unless it changes in the Democratically controlled Senate and returns to the Republican-controlled House, it has gained final approval in the House.
Folks, it’s not a lot of money, and it only applies to legislators who live outside the Denver metro area. The travel and accommodation burdens on those legislators are substantial. While it’s never popular for politicians to ask for pay increases, that unpopularity has led to a situation in Colorado where the compensation by any professional measure is grossly inadequate.
With all of this in mind, and given our previous position on the issue…what’s upset us about this bill, you ask? Well, as Malone reports, House Bill 12-1301 was never actually debated. It was passed “tucked behind a morning of feel-good speeches” about unrelated subjects–Rep. Ed Vigil, who voted against, said he was “really surprised” by the lack of any debate.
It’s tough to imagine a more stupid, backlash-inviting way to handle this. If GOP Speaker Frank McNulty wanted to increase per diem for rural legislators without trying to be sneaky about it, on the merits, we would support that. McNulty could have held a press conference with Democratic co-sponsors, and explained to the voters in clear terms why a per diem increase for legislators is necessary. We have to believe if the roles were reversed and an ounce of political capital stood to be gained, Speaker McNulty would be demanding at least that.
And even though we may agree with Speaker McNulty that a legislative per diem increase is necessary, we think it’s perfectly fair to ask him how this “pay hike for politicians” will be paid for. Because again, folks, it’s a question McNulty would be asking himself if he wasn’t in on the deal.
It’s possible that this situation just doesn’t reinforce GOP “small government” talking points very well, folks. That’s too bad for McNulty, but trying to pass it all sneaky like won’t help.