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.