Legislative compensation revisions near final passage in Senate

Published: Thursday, Jan. 31 2013 3:25 p.m. MST

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, left, former Senate President Michael Waddoups and Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, talk in the Senate before the state Legislature begins its session Monday, Jan. 28, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — As the longest serving member of the Utah Legislature, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, receives among the lowest compensation.

The reason is the Legislature's compensation model, which provides all lawmakers per diem for lodging and food.

Hillyard, who has served in the Legislature for 33 years, lives in Logan. Unlike his Senate colleagues who live along the Wasatch Front and go home at the end of each day of the legislative session — and pocket the per diem — Hillyard spends his on hotels and meals.

On average, lawmakers earn $15,000 to $20,000, depending upon mileage and the number of meetings they attend. Hillyard's compensation is about $5,000 less, he said.

Hillyard, who is an attorney, said pay is not the reason he serves in the Utah Legislature. But his situation illustrates some of the problems with the compensation model.

"I'm voting for this bill for the person who replaces me, not me," he said.

Currently, Utah lawmakers are paid $117 each day they are in session or attend official meetings. They also receive $95 for lodging and $61 for meals, though few legislators from the Wasatch Front incur those costs.

Under HJR6, lawmakers would receive $273 in daily compensation. Those who require lodging and meals could seek reimbursements up to an additional $156 per day. Those expenses would require approval by legislative leaders and would be subject to audit.

The price tag for the change, recommended by the independent Utah Legislative Compensation Commission, is expected to be $150,000 annually.

Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said the resolution is creates a system that is transparent.

"It's the right thing to do. It's the right time to do it," Okerlund said.

The measure passed the House earlier this week and appears headed for final passage in the Senate. The Senate passed the resolution on its second reading Thursday.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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