Legislature displays tin ear on expenses
We have long believed that it makes sense to raise the salary state lawmakers receive for their 120 days of service during the legislative session, plus the numerous days spent on legislative work when the Legislature is not in session.
Better pay, we believe, would attract more and better people to run for the Legislature, folks who might not believe it’s worth it to give up careers or businesses for $30,000 a year, plus expenses.
Maybe it would even lead to a more professional state Legislature, instead of the aging frat-boy (and girl) attitude that seems to have dominated the state Capitol the last few years.
But raising legislative pay during a severe economic downturn is another matter. In that regard legislators demonstrated how out of touch they are with the people and needs of Colorado when they approved a 22 percent increase in the per diem expenses paid to lawmakers who live 50 miles or more from Denver.
In the first budget years since 2008 when it appears there will actually be an uptick in available state revenue, the Legislature decided the first, most important use of that additional money was to give almost half of its members a pay raise.
Lawmakers’ first order of business for using those additional funds was not to boost funding to schools or to restore a portion of the cuts to other state services, or to help state employees who have not seen a raise for four years. It was to help themselves.
We realize the total amount of money involved is small potatoes when compared to the entire state budget, but Colorado’s elected representatives have an obligation to show they are just as committed to belt-tightening during tough times as their constituents. This action demonstrates just the opposite.
Lawmakers can argue all they want that the per diem increase isn’t really a pay raise, since it only helps those from outside the Denver metro area to cover their expenses.
But tell that to the public and private workers who have seen no increase in their wages or expenses for several years, or have lost jobs and are struggling to survive on unemployment benefits.
Moreover, while fuel costs have risen of late, real estate and rent costs have declined in Denver — as they have elsewhere in Colorado — during this recession. It’s not as if rural lawmakers suddenly faced an unaffordable jump in their expenses.
One day, in the not-too-distant future we hope, when the economy improves, it will be time to consider raising the salary for all Colorado lawmakers.
But for now, the haste with which lawmakers of both parties rushed, on behalf of themselves, to take advantage of the state’s marginally improving economic conditions demonstrates the tin ear they have for the concerns of their constituents. The per diem increase at this time is an embarrassment.
We understand Gov. John Hickenlooper has said he won’t oppose the per diem increase, but we hope he will reconsider and veto it now that it is on the way to his desk.