June 25, 2012 in Idaho

Idaho lawmakers slated for 2% raise

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Betsy Russell photo

Idaho’s citizens committee on legislative compensation debates pay for lawmakers on Monday.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - Idaho state legislators should get a 2 percent raise next year, a citizens committee decided Monday, while also tightening up rules about compensation for a lawmaker’s second residence near the capitol.

“They’ve not had a raise since 2007,” said Eva Gay Yost, a member of the panel. “They rejected the last one. State employees got 2 percent, so I thought it was appropriate.”

Lawmakers this year approved 2 percent raises for all state employees performing to standards in the coming year, the first state employee raise they’ve funded in four years.

The committee’s recommendation takes effect unless lawmakers reject it - which they did in 2009, when the panel recommended a 5 percent raise. Two years ago, the committee recommended no raise.

The second-residence rule became an issue in 2011, when the Associated Press reported that two Canyon County senators - Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, and then-Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell - were claiming the compensation, which adds up to roughly $6,000 a year, without actually setting up second residences near the capitol. McGee stayed with his parents, and McKenzie slept on his law office couch.

Legislative leaders put a stop to that this year, but Debora Kristensen, chair of the six-member citizens panel, said the group voted to add specifics to the compensation recommendation “to give some clarity as to what that means.”

Under the new provision, the extra reimbursement will go only to lawmakers whose primary residence is outside Ada County, and who maintain a second residence in Ada County for the legislative session.

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, told the six-member citizens panel, “Some jobs are really thankless - this is really thankless. I want you to know that legislators appreciate your service. We would never want to set our own compensation.” He said, “In my opinion, you’ve acted very responsibly.”

Idaho lawmakers currently make $16,116 a year in salary; with the 2 percent raise, that would jump to $16,438. Washington lawmakers are paid $42,106 a year. Of the 42 states that set annual compensation for lawmakers, Washington ranks 14th, and Idaho 29th, according to data collected by the National Conference of State Legislatures; the remaining states set compensation by the day or week of legislative sessions, making comparison more difficult. California has the highest annual salary at $95,291; the lowest is New Mexico at zero, followed by new Hampshire at $100 a year.

Lawmakers also receive additional payments for expenses during the legislative session; in Washington, it’s $90 per day. Idaho’s rate for that will remain unchanged at $122 per day for members who establish a second residence in Boise for the session, or $49 for those who live close enough that they don’t need a second residence. They also are reimbursed for travel expenses and get $1,875 per year for constituent service expenses; the House speaker and Senate president pro-tem get an additional $4,000 a year, and that won’t change.

Kristensen, a Boise attorney, said the panel opted to keep all benefits for lawmakers the same as they are now except for the 2 percent base pay boost. As before, temporary replacements who fill in for Idaho lawmakers during the session won’t receive any salary, and insurance benefits for lawmakers will stay the same as for full-time state employees.

“The thinking was that state employees had been given a 2 percent increase, so we were trying to be consistent across the board,” Kristensen said.

This year’s decision was unanimous, unlike the panel’s deliberations two years ago, when Kristensen held out for a cut in legislative pay, because lawmakers were imposing cuts on state employees, but she was outvoted. “This time, things have changed,” she said.

Yost, a former aide to then-Gov. Phil Batt, said, “These people work hard - they earn their money.” She added, “We weren’t extravagant, but we were fair.”

Unless rejected subsequently by the Legislature, the new salary takes effect in December.

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