It's fine with us if state lawmakers vote themselves a pay raise. They work long hours on and off Capitol Hill. The taxpayer should provide adequate compensation for their labors and time spent away from their careers and other responsibilities.
In exchange for better pay, lawmakers should be open to some concessions. There should be a ban all gifts from lobbyists. This would relieve lawmakers of perceived conflicts of interest and safeguard the integrity of the lawmaking process.
State lawmakers should also limit hotel stipends to rural legislators only. Most state lawmakers live along the Wasatch Front and can readily commute to and from the state house. It's preposterous that lawmakers who spend every night of the legislative session in their own homes pocket $90 a day. Meanwhile, lawmakers from outlying areas fork over cash to hoteliers for later reimbursement. It's inequitable, even as rural state lawmakers' mileage reimbursements, which are larger because their homes are further from the state capitol, are factored into the mix.
Lawmakers also receive a $54 per diem for meal purchases, although many meals during the session are provided by lobbyists. As a practical matter, it would be a bookkeeping nightmare to parse every meal purchased by 104 lawmakers over the 45-day session. But unlike hotel stipends, which are taxable income, per diem is tax free.
Some special interests bristle at lawmakers' other benefits such as health insurance and retirement benefits. These benefits are not out of line when compared to the key leaders in the executive and judicial branches of government, however.
When compared to the compensation of their legislative peers in other states, Utah ranks in the lower half of pay scales, which suggests the recent recommendations of the Executive and Judicial Compensation Commission that lawmaker pay be increased 7.7 percent seems a reasonable approach.
However, lawmakers should review their hotel and per diem arrangements. When upwards of 70 percent of state lawmakers commute to Capitol Hill each day, taxpayers should not have to pay for their hotel accommodations. Perhaps that money could be earmarked to assist rural lawmakers who spend more time traveling to and from Salt Lake City and endure other unique hardships they encounter as a result of their legislative service.