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Colorado Lawmakers Looking For A Pay Bump With New Bill

Colorado General Assembly

A bill to raise the salaries of Colorado's elected officials was introduced in the Senate Thursday.  The proposal had been discussed for months, but people working on the measure said state lawmakers in both parties wanted to make sure there were enough votes for it to clear the legislature before allowing an introduction. This late in the session, a legislative leader must approve a bill before it can be introduced.

Statewide elected officials in Colorado have not received a raise since 1998.  According to the Council of State Governments, the state's governor ranks 47th in the country in terms of salary, ahead of Arkansas and Maine. Colorado's top official earns $90,000 each year. The average gubernatorial salary is $133,000.

Senate Bill 288 [.pdf] would include raises for the five statewide elected officials: Treasurer, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Lt. Governor, and Governor. It allows counties to raise the salaries of their local officials, and increases pay for members of the General Assembly.

While there have been discussions for years on raising salaries for legislators and elected officials, it's always a tricky topic for politicians to debate pay raises for themselves. Supporters said it’s best to do it in a non-election year, and lawmakers also want to protect vulnerable legislators from voting for pay raises.  Lawmakers at the statehouse currently earn $30,000.

“I’ve had people say I can vote for everything but my own salary,” said Senator Mary Hodge (D-Brighton). “But they will have to if they vote for this. So I don’t know what that portends for the bill.”

The pay raises would not apply to any official immediately as they wouldn't go into effect until 2019. For instance, Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term limited, would not receive a raise even if the bill passes.

There is bipartisan support for SB288. Senator Randy Baumgardner (R-Hot Sulphur Springs) and Representative Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) are main sponsors, along with Representative Millie Hamner (D-Dillon).

The last raise for county-level officials was in 2006. Local leaders said it makes it hard to recruit the most qualified candidates. Any proposal will need to be fast-tracked with only a few day left in the annual legislative session. It takes a minimum of three days for a bill to pass. The session ends May 6, 2015.

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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