Expenses high for lawmakers on Western Slope
DENVER — Beyond legislative leaders who work in the state Capitol most of the year, Western Slope lawmakers led the list in claiming the most in per diem pay last year.
Those same lawmakers say that will always be the case because they travel the farthest to get to Denver when the Legislature is in session, and naturally have higher expenses as a result.
Some lawmakers don’t claim the daily expense pay on weekends or when they aren’t actually at the Capitol during the session, but several local lawmakers were unapologetic about doing so.
That’s primarily because whether they are in Denver or not, they still have expenses here.
“If I could rent something and they said, ‘We’ll give you the weekends and we won’t charge you for that,’ that would be great,” said Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction. “But I don’t live in a motel so I can’t do that. I have absolutely no problem with (claiming the full per diem). We get paid for what we do.”
According to a Daily Sentinel database of per diem pay vouchers obtained from the Legislature through a Colorado Open Records Act request, Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, topped the list of non-legislative leaders in pay and mileage reimbursement, receiving about $26,000 in 2012. That includes her time during the 120-day session and trips to Denver during the interim for other legislative-related duties.
At about 340 miles, Roberts easily lives the farthest from Denver.
At more than $23,000, Grand Junction’s two Republicans lawmakers, Sen. Steve King and Scott, come in second and third, respectively, even though they don’t live quite as far as other out-state lawmakers, such as Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and former Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran.
Additionally, Scott and King claimed the legislative pay for the entire 120-day session and three-day special session last year, claims that included weekends when the Legislature technically is in session, but doesn’t actually meet. Their claims also included a handful of days during the week that King and Scott were excused from the session for various reasons, saying they still had legislative duties to fulfill.
Regardless of what they were doing, both said ultimately it doesn’t matter if they were in Denver during the days they weren’t at the Capitol because they still have expenses while the Legislature is in session.
“You’ve got to maintain two households, and that’s not cheap,” Scott said.
Though most of them do, not everyone in the Legislature accepts all the per diem they are entitled to. Thirty-seven of the 100 lawmakers last year claimed the pay for 119 or more days, and half claimed 110 days or more.
Some forgo a few days even though they still are paying rent in Denver.
“It’s a generous compensation that’s more than adequate,” said Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, who claimed about $18,500 in per diem pay and mileage reimbursement. “A lot of weekends I’m still working on bills or meeting with constituents, but sometimes when I take a down day and do nothing, I don’t claim it even though I’m still incurring an expense.”
Last year, legislators who live 50 miles or more away from the Capitol Building were paid $150 a day when the Legislature was in session, which is from mid-January to early May. Metro-area lawmakers who have their own homes to return to at night receive $45 a day.
This year, all non-metro area legislators will see an increase in their daily pay, to $180.
All lawmakers earn $99 a day when they are required to be in Denver when the Legislature is not in session. That pay comes with their base salary of $30,000 a year, regardless of whether they are senators or representatives.
As a result, it appears that some lawmakers accept huge per diem paychecks while others take relatively little.
That’s why Schwartz and King, among several others, say the time may be long overdue to have a debate about how best to compensate state legislators.
Both fear such a conversation will never take place partly for political reasons. It isn’t the press or even the public they worry about when it comes to scrutinizing their pay, it’s political rivals who would use the issue unfairly to target them in future political campaigns, Schwartz said.
Still, the current compensation may be based on a long-standing premise that no longer is true: That the Colorado General Assembly is a citizens’ Legislature made up of part-time workers, King said.
Not paying state legislators a livable wage, or even covering basic expenses, would only lead to voters seeing a limit on who could afford to run for state office, and that would negate a true citizen Legislature, he said.
At the same time, neither King nor others are advocating for a full-time Legislature with full-time politicians.
“In states that are full-time — California, Michigan, New York — they get paid pretty well for what they do, but do we need that much government?” King asked. “I would say at least in Colorado, no. You know what they say, ‘Watch out when the Legislature’s in session. Keep both hands on your wallet and protect yourself.’”
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PER DIEM PAY
Sen. Bill Cadman — R Colorado Springs: $31,339.00
Sen. Ellen Roberts — R Durango: $26,001.00
Rep. Amy Stephens — R Colorado Springs: $23,860.00
Sen. Steve King — R Grand Junction: $23,771.00
Rep. Ray Scott — R Grand Junction: $23,682.00
Rep. Don Coram — R Montrose: $23,416.00
Rep. Randy Baumgardner — R Hot Sulphur Springs: $22,556.00
Sen. Greg Brophy — R Yuma: $21,697.00
Sen. Jean White — R Hayden: $21,510.00
Rep. Tom Massey — R Poncha Springs: $21,393.00
Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg — R Sterling: $21,103.00
Rep. Mark Waller — R Colorado Springs: $21,082.00
Sen. Keith Swerdfeger — R Pueblo West: $20,483.00
Rep. Jon Becker — R Fort Morgan: $20,430.00
Sen. Kevin Grantham — R Canon City: $20,205.00
Sen. Kent Lambert — R Colorado Springs: $20,047.00
Rep. Mark Barker — R Colorado Springs: $19,911.00
Rep. Bob Gardner — R Colorado Springs: $19,911.00
Rep. Larry Liston — R Colorado Springs: $19,704.00
Rep. J. Paul Brown — R Ignacio: $19,675.00
Rep. B.J. Nikkel — R Loveland — $19,546.00
Sen. Keith King — R Colorado Springs: $19,423.00
Sen. Kevin Lundberg — R Berthoud: $19,050.00
Rep. Frank McNulty — R Highlands Ranch: $18,770.00
Rep. Janak Joshi — R Colorado Springs: $18,252.00
Rep. Laura Bradford — R Collbran: $17,850.00
Sen. Scott Renfroe — R Greeley: $16,854.00
Rep. Marsha Looper — R Calahan: $15,010.00
Rep. Brian Delgrosso — R Loveland: $13,831.00
Rep. David Balmer — R Centennial: $7,185.00
Rep. Glenn Vaad — R Mead: $7,088.00
Sen. Nancy Spence — R Centennial: $6,930.00
Rep. Kevin Priola — R Henderson: $6,846.00
Rep. Cheri Gerou — R Evergreen: $6,731.00
Sen. Shawn Mitchell — R Broomfield: $6,664.00
Rep. Don Beezley — R Broomfield: $6,425.00
Sen. Mark Scheffel — R Parker: $6,364.00
Rep. Robert Ramirez — R Westminster: $6,311.00
Rep. Libby Szabo — R Arvada: $5,956.00
Rep. Kathleen Conti — R Littleton: $5,885.00
Rep. Chris Holbert — R Parker: $5,765.00
Rep. Kent Summers — R Lakewood: $5,599.00
Sen. Ted Harvey — R Highlands Ranch: $5,418.00
Rep. Spencer Swalm — R Centennial: $5,418.00
Rep. Cindy Acree — R Aurora: $5,247.00
Rep. Jim Kerr — R Littleton: $5,100.00
Rep. Tim Neville — R Littleton: $5,074.00
Rep. John Soper — R Thornton: $4,730.00
Sen. John Morse — D Colorado Springs: $32,382.00
Rep. Ed Vigil — D Fort Garland: $21,228.00
Rep. Wes McKinley — D Walsh: $21,100.00
Rep. Roger Wilson — D Glenwood Springs: $20,981.00
Sen. Angela Giron — D Pueblo: $20,616.00
Sen. Gail Schwartz — D Snowmass Village: $20,364.00
Sen. Bob Bacon — D Fort Collins: $19,683.00
Rep. Pete Lee — D Colorado Springs: $19,518.00
Rep. John Kefalas — D Fort Collins: $19,456.00
Rep. Dave Young — D Greeley: $18,880.00
Rep. Millie Hamner — D Dillon: $18,472.00
Rep. Randy Fischer — D Fort Collins: $18,145.00
Rep. Sal Pace — D Pueblo: $15,975.00
Rep. Mark Ferrandino — D Denver: $10,253.00
Sen. Brandon Shaffer — D Longmont: $9,220.00
Rep. Dickley Hullinghorst — D Boulder: $8,714.00
Sen. Mary Hodge — D Brighton: $7,693.00
Rep. Claire Levy — D Boulder: $7,642.00
Rep. Jon Singer — D Longmont: $7,560.00
Rep. Carole Murray — D Castle Rock: $7,514.00
Sen. Morgan Carroll — D Aurora: $7,192.00
Rep. Matt Jones — D Louisville: $6,774.00
Sen. Jeanne Nicholson — D Black Hawk: $6,628.00
Rep. Ed Casso — D Commerce City: $6,600.00
Sen. Betty Boyd — D Lakewood: $6,503.00
Sen. Rollie Heath — D Boulder: $6,278.00
Sen. Cheri Jahn — D Wheat Ridge: $6,166.00
Sen. Linda Newell — D Littleton: $6,073.00
Rep. Angela Williams — D Denver: $5,851.00
Sen. Evie Hudak — D Westminster: $5,753.00
Sen. Suzanne Williams — D Aurora: $5,675.00
Rep. Max Tyler — D Golden: $5,624.00
Rep. Dan Pabon — D Denver: $5,519.00
Rep. Su Ryden — D Aurora: $5,160.00
Rep. Andy Kerr — D Lakewood: $5,115.00
Rep. Nancy Todd — D Aurora: $5,020.00
Rep. Judy Solano — D Brighton: $4,974.00
Rep. Jeanne Labuda — D Denver: $4,902.00
Rep. Cherylin Peniston — D Westminster: $4,821.00
Rep. Daniel Kagan — D Cherry Hills Village: $4,801.00
Sen. Joyce Foster — D Denver: $4,682.00
Rep. Rhonda Fields — D Aurora: $4,613.00
Rep. Sue Schafer — D Wheat Ridge: $4,593.00
Rep. Crisanta Duran — D Denver: $4,553.00
Sen. Irene Aguilar — D Denver: $4,386.00
Sen. Lucia Guzman — D Denver: $4,304.00
Sen. Pat Steadman — D Denver: $4,266.00
Rep. Elizabeth McCann — D Denver: $4,132.00
Rep. Joe Miklosi — D Denver: $3,780.00
Rep. Lois Court — D Denver: $2,340.00
Sen. Michael Johnston — D Denver: $1,350.00
Sen. Lois Tochtrop — D Thornton: $0.00