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Lawmaker Pay Comes Up As Colo. Legislature's Close Draws Near

Jim Hill

A bill to raise the salaries of elected officials in Colorado is expected to be introduced in the final days of the legislative session. A measure has been in the works for months.

Statewide elected officials in Colorado have not received a raise since 1998. The state's governor ranks 47th in the country in terms of salary, earning $90,000.

"It's only fair that the Governor of the state of Colorado make more than $90,000 a year," said Senator Mary Hodge (D-Brighton). "That's a terrible salary for someone who does the kind of work he has to do."

Hodge plans to sponsor a bill to increase the salaries of statewide officials by 30 percent. The proposal is expected to include raises for the five big statewide elected officials – Treasurer, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Lt. Governor, Governor – as well as county officials, and the General Assembly.

There has been behind the scenes talk for years on raising salaries for legislators and elected officials, but it's always a tricky topic for politicians to debate pay raises for themselves. Lawmakers at the statehouse currently earn $30,000.

"I've had people say, 'I can vote for everything but my own salary,'" said Hodge. "But they will have to if they vote for this. So I don't know what that portends for the bill."

Hodge said under the bill state lawmakers would make $38,000 each year, something she believes is reasonable given the hours they work.

"[People] talk about us working 120 days, but it's really much more than that," said Hodge. "We do interim committees, we do outreach in our communities. I think it's time we get a raise."

There is bipartisan support for the idea.

"From what I've seen, our elected officials deserve a raise," said Representative Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale).

He said he plans to co-sponsor the bill. Rankin represents a lot of rural counties and said he was especially motivated by his desire to try and give those elected officials a raise.

"They are very independent thinking organizations and we need to give them a lot of freedom to run their own business," said Rankin.

The last raise for county-level officials was in 2006 said Summit County Assessor Beverly Breakstone. She has been working on a county salary commission to get pay raises for local officials. While the Colorado budget doesn't pay those salaries, it does require legislative approval. Breakstone said the increase is crucial to get the best applicants for the job.

"There are fewer and fewer people who want to take the county officials job because it pays less," said Breakstone.

For instance, she said her salary as county assessor is $72,500, but her deputy earns $86,000. That's because the deputy's salary isn't subject to state approval and Summit County has authorized pay increases and cost of living adjustments over the years. Breakstone worries that when her term ends, the most qualified applicants won't apply because it would be a pay cut.

Any bill will need to be introduced quickly and make it through both chambers at a fast pace. The session ends May 6, 2015, so there are only eight days left before the legislative session adjourns.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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