SALT LAKE CITY — A resolution its sponsor says will result in "complete transparency in compensation for the legislative branch" received unanimous support Wednesday from the Senate Rules Committee.
The resolution changes how state lawmakers are compensated, in part to rectify a policy some lawmakers said had made them uncomfortable.
Utah lawmakers are paid $117 each day they are in session or attend official meetings. They also receive $95 for lodging and $61 for meals, although few legislators from the Wasatch Front incur those costs.
Under HJR6, lawmakers would receive $273 in daily compensation. Those who require lodging and meals could seek reimbursements up to an additional $156. Those expenses would require approval by legislative leaders and would be subject to audit.
Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said changes in compensation rules have been two years in the making.
The price tag for the change, recommended by the independent Utah Legislative Compensation Commission, is expected to be $150,000 annually.
Dee said it is a small price to pay for full transparency.
Sen. Patricia Jones, D-Salt Lake City, said she has been uncomfortable receiving per diem for lodging and food because she goes home each night during the legislative session.
"To me, this makes it much more clear, much more fair," she said.
While some may balk at what appears to be a pay increase for all lawmakers, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he has been far more uncomfortable with the current policy because rural lawmakers who can't go home at night end up with lower compensation because their per diem goes to lodging and food while other lawmakers can pocket theirs.
Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, agreed. "All of us have had a certain degree of uneasiness with the situation we inherited."
Dee said the new policy would enable lawmakers to turn down all or part of the compensation.
Jones said she was unaware of the lawmakers' compensation model when she ran for office.
"It's just an honor to serve in this position. It's not a very highly paid position. I know a lot of us lose money being up here," she said.
The duties of the office extend far beyond the 45-day general session of the Utah Legislature. "I know I spend at least two days a week on legislative work," she said.
Dee said during a town meeting with constituents, he asked them to estimate how much state lawmakers are paid.
"They think we we're making $60,000 to $100,000 in compensation for the work we do in state government. That's was their assumption. Those were the guesses made," Dee said.
Most average salaries are $15,000 to $20,000, depending upon mileage and the number of meetings lawmakers attend, Dee said.
Some in Dee's town hall audience said that wasn't a bad salary for part-time work.
"I don't know how many of you feel this is part-time work, but I know we do a lot of work," Dee said.