Length of legislative session also on the table
by the Campaign for Vermont
S.39, the legislative pay and benefits bill passed by the Legislature and vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott, is now in the Senate Government Operations Committee.
The bill could be subject to a veto override vote when the Legislature returns in January. Also, the Legislature is scheduled to reconvene in October to consider the impeachment of two elected county officials.
S.39 was introduced by Senators Ruth Hardy and Alison Clarkson in January. As introduced, the bill would make legislators eligible for the State employees’ health benefit plan at no cost, allow them to participate in any flexible spending account program offered to State employees for health care expenses or dependent care expenses, or both, and provide compensation during adjournment (something not currently offered). The bill also significantly increased compensation levels.
Summary (as passed)
- Legislators will have access to the state employee health care plan with similar employee contributions as executive branch employees.
- Legislators would become eligible for any employee assistance program offered to State employees, and any flexible spending account program offered to State employees for health care or dependent care expenses, or both, members of the General Assembly are considered employees.
- In 2025, legislators would be eligible for $1,000 per week in compensation plus a market adjustment.
- In 2026, legislative compensation increases to $1,100 per week, plus a market adjustment.
- In 2027, legislative compensation increases to $1,210 per week, plus a market adjustment.
- For the 2025 – 2026 biennium, the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate are entitled to:
- Weekly salaries of $1,230 and increasing to $1,530 in 2026, plus a market adjustment.
- Additional annual salaries of $19,000 and increasing to $23,500 in 2026, plus a market adjustment.
- In 2027, this increases further to 28,300 in base salary plus an additional $1,830 per week.
- When the legislature is not in session, legislators will now be eligible to collect 1/5 of their weekly compensation.
- Legislators will now receive a daily allowance for food and lodging based on the federal Office of Government-wide Policy reimbursement rates. However, members can elect to rever to the cost of actual meals and lodging if they so choose.
- A Legislative Service Working Group is created to review “issues related to serving as a member of the Vermont General Assembly.” The Working Group will be composed of three current members of the House of Representatives and three current members of the Senate. The Group will weigh in on issues involving:
- Legislative compensation and benefits, staffing, administrative support.
- The length of the legislative session.
- The current compensation and benefits offered to members of the General Assembly.
- The impact of making members eligible for the State employees’ health plan.
|THE GOOD: Might encourage working-class Vermonters to run for legislative office.Could lead to greater diversity in the legislature.||THE BAD: Increased cost to state government and taxpayers.Creates a dis-incentive for legislators to leave office.Lack of accountability as legislators can choose to increase their compensation with little to no oversight.Little evidence presented justifying the increase.|
While the goals of this legislation are laudable, encouraging more representative cross-section of Vermonters to run for office, the lack of oversight and the inherent conflict of interest presented by legislators voting on an expansive benefit package and pay increase undermines the public’s confidence in state government.
While we would like to see more middle-class Vermonters in our legislature (it is arguably not very representative today), the effort to rush this through at the end of the session does not sit well with us; neither does the lack of testimony or evidence presented around why these compensation levels were necessary.
Legislative pay increases should be handed to a third-party that dis-interested and should also be pegged to statewide median wage, instead of state employees and executive officers. As our research has shown, these positions are better compensated than the average worker. By tying legislative compensation to median wages it creates a financial incentive to grow the economy and the incomes of Vermont’s middle class.
Finally, we would also prefer to see term limits imposed on legislators in an effort to encourage tours of public service instead of legislative careers. We believe this will lead to new ideas and fresh perspectives in addition to providing the kind of diversity that we seek in our legislative leaders.
Vetoed by Governor Scott. The bill was referred back to the Senate Government Operations Committee, pending an override vote.