State lawmakers are again being urged to raise their salaries when they boost the pay of the executive and judicial branches during the upcoming legislative session.
The Legislative Salary Commission, a citizens panel appointed by the governor, has reissued a previous recommendation to increase legislators' wages from $65 to $100 per day in session and while at interim committee meetings.Lawmakers meet at least 45 days a year in regular session during January and February, and most generally attend committee meetings once a month.
The daily salary hasn't been increased since 1983 despite the commission recommending a higher amount almost annually since then. Legislators are free to accept, reject or lower the commission's recommendation.
This month, Gov. Norm Bangerter encouraged the lawmaker pay hike when presenting his proposed budget for next fiscal year, noting that even the recommended increase would hardly bring Utah into parity with legislative pay in other states.
Utah's level of compensation ranks sixth among the eight Rocky Mountain states, and 46th among the 50 states, said Dale Zabriskie, a Salt Lake public relations executive who serves as chairman of the Legislative Compensation Commission.
The suggested $35 daily pay boost would raise the salary portion of a legislator's normal total compensation to $5,700 yearly, he said. Coupled with the minimum $4,275 per diem expense allowance now allowed, the total annual compensation would be $9,975.
"Even with this sizeable increase, Utah legislators would move only from sixth place to fifth place in total compensation among legislators in the Rocky Mountain states," Zabriskie said. "They would be ahead of Montana, Wyoming and New Mexico, but would remain behind Colorado, Arizona, Idaho and Nevada."
Besides daily pay, Utah's 104 legislators each receives a $25 daily "subsistence allowance" during the session and at interim committee meetings, plus transportation costs.
There is also the option for lawmakers residing outside of Salt Lake and Davis counties to obtain an additional $50 daily lodging allowance rather than daily mileage reimbursement between their homes and the Capitol.
Despite the encouragement to raise salaries, it's still indefinite who might step forward as a legislator-sponsor for the bill to hike wages.
Sen. Rex Black, D-Salt Lake City, did so last year. But he found colleagues in the majority recoiling from the concept in an election year.
The timing also was deemed inappropriate by some because the effort fell closer to the congressional pay raise action in Washington, which drew considerable public hostility around the country.
"At this point, I just don't know whether it's worthwhile for me to sponsor the bill again," Black said. "There's no doubt it's warranted. It's just that we need some bipartisan consensus to stand together on this. We'll have to talk it over during the session."