DENVER – Legislative pay was back on the agenda Wednesday, when Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, advocated suspending paychecks if lawmakers can’t pass a budget on time.
Last year, the Legislature sweated through two weeks of wrangling about the state budget before the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House came to terms and passed the budget on time.
Shaffer’s Senate Bill 19 would suspend pay and benefits for all 100 legislators if they failed to pass a budget by the end of their yearly session on May 9 – something that has not happened in recent history.
The bill passed the Democratic-controlled Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday, but it faces another hearing in the Appropriations Committee later.
“Just like every other middle-class Coloradan out there, if you don’t do your job, you don’t get paid. I think we should have the same standard for legislators in this body,” Shaffer said.
Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, said the Legislature has never had a problem with passing a budget, but it has failed for the last four decades to pass a congressional redistricting plan. He opposed Shaffer’s bill.
“One house could use it as a bully tactic against the other,” Grantham said. “I see this more as a political tool than anything.”
Shaffer is running for Congress in the Eastern Plains district.
Shaffer was a co-sponsor of a bill that funded the Legislature for the next year. It caused controversy because it included per diem raises for 41 rural legislators, and Shaffer dropped his co-sponsorship and voted against it.
The per diem bill passed and is awaiting Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature.
Last year, budget negotiations dragged on longer than usual. A majority of legislators ultimately voted in favor of the budget, but not before a public fallout between Shaffer and House Speaker Frank McNulty, a Republican. Shaffer said the bill creates an incentive “to put partisan politics aside” during the budget process.
“An incentive that prevents one individual from standing in the way, whether that’s an individual on the Joint Budget Committee or an individual in leadership in one of the chambers or the other,” he said.
In Colorado, lawmakers are paid $30,000 annually, so they receive $2,500 per month.
A few states have mechanisms in place to incentivize lawmakers to pass budgets in a timely manner.
In Washington state, lawmakers can be charged with a criminal misdemeanor if they don’t pass a budget 30 days before the start of a new biennium, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That provision has not been used, NCSL said. New York lawmakers can have their pay suspended if the budget is overdue, and California voters approved a 2010 ballot measure that also withholds lawmakers’ pay if they don’t pass a budget by June 15, according to NCSL.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Associated Press writer Ivan Moreno contributed to this report.