By Guy Page
The Vermont House Government Operations Committee yesterday voted 8-4 to send to the House floor a hefty pay raise, adjournment pay, and state employee-level health care benefits for the Legislature.
But not before three disgruntled Republican committee members had their say.
S.39 was approved by the Vermont Senate April 14 and is scheduled for a House vote this week, prior to the scheduled adjournment on Friday. It would boost the current $811/week pay to $1000 in 2025, $1100 in 2026, and $1210 in 2027. See complete list of proposed benefits, and estimated amounts, below.
The Vermont Constitution’s common benefit clause basically says we shouldn’t be doing this. We shouldn’t be setting ourselves up for better health care than our constituency.
– Rep. Mark Higley
The legislative pay/health care insurance raise was passed out of Gov Ops over the vocal objections of the three Republicans on the committee. Rep. Jay Hooper (D-Randolph) also voted no. This afternoon he told VDC why: “The Legislature has to earn it from an agenda perspective,” he said. Absent that, “we can’t just give ourselves a raise.”
The following comments are excerpted from a May 9 committee discussion on YouTube. They are lightly edited for readability.
“We’ve hardly talked about this at all. I mean, we stretch out other bills for weeks and weeks and weeks, and talk about them. And we have barely talked about this concept at all in this committee.” – Rep. Lisa Hango
Rep. Mark Higley (Lowell): “The Vermont Constitution’s common benefit clause basically says we shouldn’t be doing this. We shouldn’t be setting ourselves up for better health care than our constituency. The optics of it are terrible. When we’re looking at paid sick and family leave bill possibly not going forward, I think we were looking at close to $400 million dollars of green taxes, fees and costs for programs. I’ve certainly heard from my constituency, even since last week.
“It’s bad to impose that on Vermonters. Whether it’s DMV fees, whether it’s professional fees through [including contractor registration] OPR, and then give ourselves a package like this, is unconscionable in my mind.
“We have a pretty diverse Legislature now. People who run know what they’re running for. They should be responsible enough to understand what the benefits are, what the time commitment is, and so on. To come here and make an effort to change it all because it doesn’t meet current whims of a lot of folks is in my mind not appropriate.
“The senator that presented the sheriff’s Bill [S.17] initially stated there’s no other group in the state of Vermont that can give themselves raises the way that the Caledonia Sheriff did. And lo and behold, we’re doing it to ourselves.”
Rep. Mike Morgan (Milton) noted that many high-interest bills have public hearings – but not S.39. “I bet if you put that out for a public hearing, there’d be a lot of backlash.”
Rep. Matt Birong (D-Vergennes) interjected. “I think going from 13 and loose change to whatever it may be, 28-ish, is certainly not unconscionable. I think it’s barely survival.” Chair Mike McCarthy (D-St. Albans City) added: What this is about for me is really delving into that conversation with this working group [S.39 creates a working group to study longterm changes to the Legislative session]. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come back. All right, I think we’ve beat this to death.”
Rep. Lisa Hango (R-Franklin) did not agree. Except for some discussions the week before, “we’ve hardly talked about this at all. I mean, we stretch out other bills for weeks and weeks and weeks, and talk about them. And we have barely talked about this concept at all in this committee.” Saying to Chair McCarthy, “You may have talked about it with every single other member of leadership. But I just can’t believe that you think that we’ve talked about this enough, to vote on something that’s this important and that may potentially reflect poorly on you yourself, you know – ‘legislator gives himself a raise.’
McCarthy said they’re actually giving the next Legislature a raise, and that he’ll be happy to discuss the matter with his constituents.
Rep. Bob Hooper of Burlington said higher pay promotes more diversity.
S.39 provides weekly salaries ($811 at present) for all House and Senate members during the 18-20 week Legislative Session:
for 2025, $1,000/week/18 weeks: $18,000.
for 2026, $1,100/week/18 weeks: $19,800.
For 2027, $1,210/week/18 weeks: $21,780.
The following proposed pay/benefits are in addition to the weekly base pay referenced above. The figures provided are VDC estimates.
Health insurance benefits – legislators would be eligible for the same health care benefits now enjoyed by State of Vermont executive branch employees. Starts 2024. Currently they do not receive the state health insurance benefits. – $8,000
Adjournment Pay – when out-of-session, lawmakers would receive weekly pay one-fifth of the in-session pay ($242/week). At present, they do not receive adjournment pay. Lawmakers are paid a per-diem for non-session committee and summer study work. – $6800
Mileage reimbursement – for lawmakers living at home, travel from home to the Capitol at the federal mileage reimbursement rate (currently 65.5 cents/mile, likely to rise or fall annually). This is also a current benefit. Based on an 80-mile (40 miles each way) round trip, four days a week, for 18 weeks. – $3773
Lodging reimbursement or allowance – Lawmakers not living at home would elect either actual lodging reimbursement or the federally-established government lodging allowance for Montpelier, Vermont – which is currently $127/day, likely to rise or fall annually. This is a current benefit. – $9144
Meals reimbursement or allowance – Lawmakers would elect either actual meals reimbursement or the federally-established government meals allowance for Montpelier, Vermont – which is currently $69/day, likely to rise or fall annually. This is a current benefit. – $4968
Childcare/eldercare – Each lawmaker with $75K or less of household income will receive up to $1600/year for necessary childcare or eldercare. At present, lawmakers do not receive any childcare/eldercare benefit. – $1600
Total annual estimated pay/benefit value in addition to base in-session weekly pay: $38,285.
Other S.39 proposed lawmaker compensations were either not eligible to all or were uncertain to be used, and therefore are listed separately:
Professional development out-of-state – Lawmakers would receive a per-diem (pro-rated from weekly salary) for attending out-of-state professional development and other duties.
Parking – A member who attests that physical limitations make it difficult or impractical to walk from lodging to the State House may receive reimbursement for actual costs incurred for overnight parking.
Orientation pay for members-elect – Each newly-elected non-incumbent will be paid a per diem based on lawmakers’ weekly pay for attending new member orientation, usually held in December.
Death pay – The estate of a deceased member will receive the entire pay of the two-week period in which the member died.
Special Session per diem – pay a per diem (daily) rate equal to one-fifth of the weekly pay: $200 in 20.
Legislative leave of absence – Employers of lawmakers will be required to provide leaves of absence for lawmakers in pursuit of their legislative duties. Candidates must inform employers shortly after filing to run for office.