DENVER (AP) — Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday he favors a scheduled $33 daily pay hike for rural lawmakers because it's "the right thing to do," even though it's unpopular.
Hickenlooper said that the lawmakers who live far from the state Capitol are subsidizing their day-to-day expenses for "all the time they commit here."
"And when they're here, they're working from first thing in the morning to just about when they go to sleep," he said.
The per diem daily increase would go to 41 lawmakers who live more than 50 miles from Denver. Hickenlooper made the comments during an annual luncheon at the governor's mansion with newspaper publishers and editors who are in Denver for the Colorado Press Association convention this weekend.
The per diem increase for rural lawmakers would increase from $150 to $183 effective July 1, unless lawmakers pass legislation to delay it, as they did in 2010. That's when it was supposed to increase in accordance with a federal reimbursement rate. Lawmakers in the Denver metro area receive a per diem of $45. Lawmakers are paid $30,000 a year, and the per diem is additional.
Per diem pay has become a heated, touchy topic because the state continues to make cuts to balance the budget and state employees have not received a raise in years. Without any debate, lawmakers passed a bill last week authorizing $189,420 for the per diem increase for rural lawmakers, The Pueblo Chieftain first reported. The bill passed 34-28.
The bill, which outlines several expenditures for the legislative department, does not directly describe the per diem hike for rural lawmakers.
"I realize it's politically unpopular, but I think it's probably the right thing to do," Hickenlooper said. "These are our rural legislators, the ones who come from farthest away."
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