Lawmakers Approve Pay Raise

A bill to raise the salaries of state lawmakers and other elected officials quietly made its way through the state house in the final days of the legislative session. It passed on the last day of the session clearing the House with the minimum number of required votes. It had virtually no debate in either chamber.

“People in my district, whenever I tell them how much we make as lawmakers up here, are astounded. They are kind of appalled,” said Senator Kevin Grantham (R-Canon City). He voted for the measure in the Senate where it passed with a wider margin.

Senate Bill 288 [.pdf] would increase lawmakers’ salaries from $30,000 to $38,000. It would raise salaries by 30% for statewide elected officials such as the Governor and Attorney General. It would also let counties raise the salaries of their local elected officials. It doesn’t go into effect until 2019, so the Governor and many current lawmakers wouldn’t see a raise.

According to the Council of State Governments, Colorado’s governor ranks 47th in the country in terms of salary. He earns $90,000 each year. The average gubernatorial salary is $133,000. Elected officials have not had a raise since 1998.

The proposal had been discussed for months, but people working on the measure said legislative leaders in both parties wanted to make sure there were enough votes for it to pass before allowing an introduction. Taking a vote for salary increases is tough politically, especially for lawmakers in swing districts. While all four leaders from both parties voted for the increase, they each had members of their caucuses who voted against it.

“It’s difficult for me to support something like that when I know regular people, their salaries have not increased commensurate with their expenses,” said Senator John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins).

The bill was one of the final bills introduced this session with less than a week left, and it needed to sail through both chambers in order to pass by the midnight deadline on Wednesday May 6 before legislators adjourn for the year.

“Many people support this and know it’s time to take action,” said Beverly Breakstone. She’s the Summit County Assessor and member of the County Elected Officials Salary Commission. This was her third year lobbying for a pay increase bill. She said last year there was resistance because legislators didn’t want to authorize raises for anybody in an election year.