Utah lawmakers approve change to pay structure

Michelle l. Price, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah lawmakers approved legislation Friday that changes the way they are paid, giving a slight pay boost to those who commute long distances to the Capitol.

Utah's legislators were being paid $273 every day the Legislature is in session or when they are called to an official meeting. Of that amount, $117 was salary, while $61 was set aside for meals and $95 for lodging.

But for years, lawmakers that live close to the Capitol have been able to keep the lodging and food per diem, regardless of whether they stayed in a hotel or ate out.

Many lawmakers said that system was unfair to those who travel greater distances to the state Capitol in Salt Lake City.

"This bill is long overdue," said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. "This bill corrects, I think, an egregious problem of legislators receiving money for hotels that they don't stay in, for meals that they don't buy and sometimes for miles that they don't drive."

The change still gives lawmakers $273 per day, all of it as salary. Legislators needing lodging or meals can submit receipts for reimbursement.

The change will cost taxpayers an extra $150,000 annually. It evens out pay for all lawmakers and increases the salary for those who commute long distances and incur costs such as hotel stays while serving.

The Utah Senate gave the bill final legislative approval on Friday, and it takes effect Saturday.

The change creates a more transparent system with a paper trail, said sponsor and House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden.

"It becomes full disclosure and it is the way we should do things as a Legislative body," he told representatives who gave their approval Tuesday.

Most senators agreed.

"I've always felt uncomfortable being paid per diem because I live in Salt Lake County," said Democratic Sen. Patricia Jones, of Salt Lake City.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said he has to use more of his pay than others because he travels about 80 miles to the Capitol.

He doesn't mind "taking a small financial sacrifice by serving here" but supported the change so anyone taking his place can afford to serve.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said the measure raises pay "to the level where common working men and women in our community would be able to come up and serve."

One of the biggest obstacles to recruiting candidates for the Legislature is the low salary, which few can afford to live on, he said.

The change was recommended by a commission that proposes salary changes lawmakers can accept or reject without making changes. Legislators voted it down when the proposal came up last year.


Follow Michelle L. Price at http://twitter.com/michellelprice