GUEST COMMENTARY
Election Year Rhetoric on Fiscal Responsibility
by Brian Ahern, San Miguel County Democratic Chair
Mar 05, 2012 | 915 views | 1 1 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Whatever happened to packing a lunch?

This election year we will no doubt here plenty of political rhetoric in regards to “fiscal responsibility” from our state elected officials. However for our GOP elected officials in the State Senate and House from the Western Slope don’t expect to hear them speak out against their hefty per diem increase. In these uncertain economic times when all other State agencies are faced with hiring freezes and furlough days our local lawmakers have increased there salaries by as much as $18,000 a year (that’s non taxable).

House bill 1301 passed the house last week on a 34-28 vote with both J. Paul Brown and Don Coram voting in favor of the measure. The sad reality is our state is in an economic crisis and our educators both at the State and local level are facing serious budget constraints and lack the ability to give themselves a pay raise without voter approval. When legislators vote to approve such measures it is the responsibility of the electorate and their constituents to demand an explanation on why they think they deserve more.

At least our last State Rep. Scott Tipton from the 58th only charged for 119 out of 120 possible days for his per diem when he was in office as a State Rep despite being one of the wealthiest lawmakers in office at the time. It was Cortez former State Rep. Mark Larson who was recently quoted as saying, “If legislators think they deserve more pay, they should pass a salary increase rather than increasing their daily reimbursements”. Larson also went on to say that when he was in the Legislature he made money on the per diem and that was at $99 with the increase approved by Brown, Coram and Roberts the per diem will increase to $183 a day.

There is no doubt that the $30,000-a-year base salary is not enough to compensate our rural lawmakers; however, it’s disingenuous to pass a per diem increase instead of holding a debate on the issue. Some of our local teachers have not had a pay increase in years and in some situations they often purchase school supplies out of pocket. Our state has many economic demands, as diverse as our population – transportation funding, education, prisons, etc., and at some point our lawmakers will have to make hard decisions that will have unintended outcomes that we will all have to live with. It would be easier for me to support their efforts in any 1 of those topics if I knew that these elected officials weren’t there to line their own pockets first. If you feel like I do contact your local elected official and respectfully ask that they refuse the per diem increase like Sen Lois Tochtrop who manages to do her job at the statehouse without collecting any per diem until there is an open honest debate on the matter.
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TellurideFreePress
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March 05, 2012
Well written but this is not a Dem/Repub conflict. I realize partisans will point fingers during an election year but both parties are to blame for this per diem increase while thousands of Colorado residents face unemployment and foreclosure.

Durango Herald: Colorado senators from both parties were on the defense Tuesday, as they gave tentative approval to a measure that includes more money for rural lawmakers.

A bill that won tentative approval on a voice vote includes a 22 percent per diem increase for the 41 lawmakers who live more than 50 miles from Denver. The hike of $33 per day when lawmakers are in Denver is included in a routine legislative accounting bill. The total taxpayer cost for the per diem hike is $189,000 a year.

A pay raise? No way, senators from both parties argued Thursday. They cringed at the suggestion they’re padding their own pockets.

Republican Senate Leader Bill Cadman pointed out that lawmakers’ pay is not going up, just reimbursement for expenses. He took the podium to bitterly condemn news media accounts calling the change a “pay hike,” saying the public has misunderstood the accounting bill.

“And we wonder why people are confused about what we do for them,” Cadman said.

Cadman’s counterpart, Senate Democratic Leader John Morse, argued that the per diem hike is scheduled to go up under current law, and that the bill before the Senate on Tuesday only rectified the books.

“If this bill were to fail, and there has been a lot of discussion ... (the per diem hike) still goes into effect July 1. The money would just have to come from somewhere else,” Morse said.

Some lawmakers have voted against the accounting bill, if only to make a statement. The bill passed the House 34-28, an unusually narrow margin. In the Senate, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Nicholson rose to say she couldn’t support the bill including the per diem hike.

“We know that many of the people in Colorado are still struggling financially,” said Nicholson, who comes from Gilpin County and will receive the extra $33 per day.

Nicholson was not alone in voting against the accounting bill, but a roll call on the measure was not taken, making it impossible to say how each senator voted. A more formal vote is pending, after which the accounting bill goes to the desk of Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has also defended the per diem hike.

“I realize it’s politically unpopular, but I think it’s probably the right thing to do,” Hickenlooper said last week.

WHAT THEY MADE

The following chart reflects the total gross direct compensation to Southern Colorado lawmakers during the fiscal year that ended July 1. It includes their legislative salary before withholding, per diem, mileage reimbursement (46 cents per mile in 2011), airfare reimbursement and interim committee reimbursement. It does not reflect health care benefits or Public Employees’ Retirement Association benefits that they are eligible to receive. Each of the lawmakers below, or their successors, will be eligible for up to $3,960 more next year.

Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray (represents Prowers County): $53,086.21

Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan (represents Crowley County): $53,040.31

Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland: $52,695.45

Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Cokedale: $51,516.00

Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village (represents San Luis Valley): $51,164.91

Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs: $51,124.80

Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo: $49,969.74

Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West: $49,954.08

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs (represents part of Fremont County): $49,916.14

*Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo: $49,570.30 (as House minority leader in 2011, Pace was eligible to claim per diem year-round)

Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City: $48,120.96