Here’s a roundup of the extensive statewide coverage today of the General Assembly’s apparent intention to plow ahead with a 22% hike in the daily per diem rate for legislators from outside the Denver metro area. Beginning with the Grand Junction Sentinel’s Charles Ashby:
Even though rural lawmakers would get about $4,000 more a year, legislative leaders from both sides of the political aisle said an effort to increase their per diem pay is not a pay raise…
The increase was hidden in a routine appropriations bill [Pols emphasis] to fund the Legislature next year. While it includes an increase for 41 of the state’s 100 lawmakers, there is no pay raise for legislative workers.
Morse said it would take a separate bill to delay the increase, then added he wouldn’t approve allowing such a bill to be introduced…
Western Slope lawmakers who voted for the increase and would receive it next year include Reps. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, and Don Coram, R-Montrose. Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs, also supports it, but he’s not running for re-election.
“I think we should get a per diem increase, I don’t think we should get a pay raise. It depends on what you want to call it. I call it a per diem raise,” Scott said. [Pols emphasis]
The Durango Herald’s Joe Hanel:
“The policy is the right policy. This has been misrepresented and misreported from the beginning,” said McNulty, who sponsored HB 1301 but is not eligible for the raise. “This is a per diem to reimburse members for their living expenses and other related expenses when they’re here in Denver. When this is accurately reported, I think people will understand.”
…But the arguments did not impress Matthew Keefauver, a Cortez city councilor and teacher at Kemper Elementary School. Keefauver testified last summer in a lawsuit against the state for chronically underfunding public schools. He moonlights at a Cortez garden center to earn money to pay for classroom supplies and field trips.
“I think it is ironic that legislators think they can give themselves a raise when teachers are doing more with less,” Keefauver said.
He expects to have to buy paper for his classroom soon, when the reams that parents bought last fall run out. [Pols emphasis]
Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, disagreed.
“We’ve had significant cuts in K-12 and higher education, entire wings of the state hospital in Pueblo have closed, and leadership is putting our chin out front, putting us first,” Pace said. “I think the perception among constituents is that we’re in tough economic times, and everyone needs to take their lumps.”
…Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, voted against the spending bill that would pay for the per-diem increase. He had expressed interest in carrying a late bill to postpone the increase, but with McNulty and Morse lined up against it, any request would be rejected,
“Leadership has indicated that this per-diem increase is probably going to happen anyway, so I think it’s really out of our hands at this point,” Vigil said.
He said he fears a bill request would not be authorized and could serve to jeopardize other legislation that he is carrying. [Pols emphasis]
In the Denver paper today, reporter Lynn Bartels quotes Rep. Claire Levy’s objection to raising per diem, the insistence she encountered from “some members” of the Joint Budget Committee that no state employees, not even the very lowest-paid among workers who haven’t seen a raise in four years, could receive any kind of salary increase. After all, Rep. Levy says, raising per diem “effectively is an increase in pay.” CD-3 candidate Sal Pace and Rep. Levy illustrate what could have been a potent political opportunity for Democrats, against Republicans who consistently vote to cut or freeze the pay of others, but just raised their own.
But any more news cycles like this, and Democrats can consider that opportunity squandered!
Folks, it’s not our job to bob our heads like sycophants as acts of manifest political cluelessness are carried out by members of either, or as the case may be both parties. Particularly frustrating in this situation is our agreement that elected officials in Colorado are significantly underpaid. But in an environment of budget cuts–after years of budget cuts–layoffs, and effective pay freezes, the timing of this decision to hike legislative per diem, especially after the way Speaker Frank McNulty mishandled the bill in the House, is an absolute political nightmare. And no amount of tough-guy bravado from John Morse, or even the odd and rare expenditure of political capital from Gov. John Hickenlooper himself, is going to change that.
Do you see the press you are getting? We are not making it up. Ignore it at your peril.