Lawmakers have asked the Legislative Service Office to draft a bill that would increase their daily reimbursements.

The Subcommittee on Legislator Compensation met Friday to discuss changing lawmaker compensation in light of an ongoing increase in workloads. 

Born from the Management Council, the subcommittee was created to examine the topic and draft legislation after data from the Legislative Service Office indicated a significant rise in the number of interim meeting days. In 2005 — the last time lawmaker salary was boosted — the Legislature met for a total of 103 days, according to the LSO. In 2021, there were 155 meeting days. Those numbers do not include regular sessions or special sessions, two of which have occurred since 2020. 

Though pay has held steady, many longtime lawmakers say the nature of the job has changed, with increasingly complex interim topics stacking up. That’s raised questions about who has the means and ability to serve the state and who does not. That disparity is reflected in the demographics of the Legislature, which consists largely of retirees and the self-employed, who can absorb the additional costs or time away, according to Rep. Mike Greear (R-Worland). 

“People who are retired are very important, [they’re a] great segment of our state. However, we need younger people — we need younger people of both genders,” Greear said at the subcommittee meeting. 

Wyoming is one of the few states that constitutionally requires legislative action to raise lawmakers’ salaries, so the Legislature will need to pass a bill in order to bump pay. That’s proven to be a challenge. 

Twenty bills have either been numbered or introduced since 2001 that would modify legislator compensation, per diem pay, constituent service allowances and other benefits, according to the LSO. Only five of those have become law. The most recent success came in 2020 when lawmakers passed a bill to provide workers compensation coverage for legislators. (Lawmakers will become eligible to enroll in that program in January.) 

“We haven’t been able to do much as a body in terms of even talking about our per diem, salary, these benefits or lack thereof, because of what I’ve called ‘the optics’ of it appearing that we are raising our own salaries,” Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie) said. 

Regardless of appearances, lawmakers’ hands are somewhat tied by the state constitution. While they can increase the base salary for the next body of lawmakers, according to LSO’s Matt Obrecht, they cannot do so for themselves. In other words, the 67th Wyoming Legislature could not raise their own salaries, but could for the 68th. 

Per diem rate refers to a daily allowance to cover the expenses associated with serving. Unlike salary, per diem rate is not considered as a constitutional compensation, so could be changed with the passage of a bill, effective immediately. In 2019, lawmakers passed a bill to adjust per diem rates based on the federal amount — a practice adopted by most states, according to the LSO. 

Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed that bill since it cut those rates by 50% for lawmakers with primary residences within 25 miles of the Capitol Building in Cheyenne. 

Since then, lawmakers’ per diem has remained at $109. 

State representatives on the House floor in the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne in March 2021. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

As for base salary, the state pays legislators $150 a day for each day they are in Cheyenne for a session, including weekends, and each day of an interim committee meeting. Lawmakers are paid $109 a day for travel to and from the session and for the days before and after interim meetings in the instance that they have to leave their hometowns to attend. Mileage compensation is pegged to the federal rate, currently 58 cents per mile. Lawmakers also receive some pay when not in session — though how many days of salary and at what rate depends on considerations like committee roles — as well as a $750 constituent service allowance per quarter, among other things. 

“Because of different constitutional setups, different statutory schemes, it’s never going to be a perfect comparison at all,” Obrecht told lawmakers in reference to how Wyoming stacks up against other states. Direct comparison of legislator daily salaries can be misleading since some states, such as Kansas and Nevada, pay lawmakers for each calendar day while others, like Utah, only pay for session and interim meeting days. The New Mexico Constitution, meantime, prohibits state legislators from receiving a salary or any compensation other than per diem and mileage reimbursement. 

“Wyoming is one of nine states (Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming) that pay legislators a daily salary for session or interim calendar or legislative day,” according to the LSO. Among them, Wyoming’s compensation falls midpoint between the lowest state (Kansas with $88.66) and the highest (South Dakota with $348.94). 

Wyoming’s average two-year legislator salary is about $26,355, according to the LSO. For comparison, that rate is about $61,500 for Colorado lawmakers, $24,000 in Nebraska and $35,700 in Idaho. 

Direct comparison may be difficult, but there are other clear distinctions. Wyoming is the only state to not provide some type of insurance benefit. That’s one of the most glaring compensation issues, according to Rep. Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne). 

“Speaking from a situation where my previous employer, I had to give up [health] insurance to come serve,” Brown said, “it was a big issue for me to step away.” 

Idaho and Montana provide supplemental compensation to legislators with large districts. That’s something Connolly expressed interest in during Friday’s meeting. Other committee members, including Sen. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle) suggested a stipend-type offering to assist lawmakers in hiring contract work. Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson) proposed a “cafeteria” plan, where lawmakers could pull from a general fund to use for something like contract work or to opt into the state health insurance plan. 

The subcommittee plans to meet again in October to further discuss those options. In the meantime, LSO has been charged with drafting a bill to raise the per diem rate. 

Maggie Mullen

Maggie Mullen reports on state government and politics. Before joining WyoFile in 2022, she spent five years at Wyoming Public Radio.

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  1. If state legislatures would actually keep in their lane and just keep to making a budget and essential lawmaking they could cut their time in half. Instead their time has increased because of grandstanding on hot topic social issues that is none of their business – especially from a red state that is supposed to want government out of peoples lives!
    Also, these same people have failed to provide for the state employees for YEARS who actually work for a living and have been known to say “state employees are lucky to have a job”. Well, maybe state legislatures are lucky to serve their state!

  2. When my wife went to work for the State of Wyoming back in 1983, her employer (school district principal) told her that while the pay wasn’t great, you will get it in your pension. Quote “the state takes good care of its retirees. The company I retired from (utility) paid well but their pension had no Cola (cost of living adjustment) so once you retired, that was the end of any raises. Well, I retired in 2009, and inflation is eating away at my pension, while my wife’s retirement year was 2015. Her State pension was decent, but now is being eaten away by inflation also. I should also mention that she serves on the board of Wyoming Retired Education Personnel (WREP), an organization of retirees from all school districts in Wyoming with approximately 1800 members. She and the other members of that board serve uncompensated. They have repeatedly asked that the State Legislature consider a Cola for the retirees from the State’s various school districts. Last time they asked for a Cola for all retirees that had been retired for over ten years, trying to help keep the costs down for the state. One of my former bosses once said ” you can tell how great a company is by how they treat their retirees.” I think that applies to a State too.

  3. Normally, I support paying legislators a decent wage, but these clowns? I wouldn’t pay a dime to see them perform in a circus sideshow. They should have their per diem, travel costs, and whatever else they get reimbursed currently, canceled, too.

  4. All states have enough laws on the books now. All the people just need say enough is enough. All stay home. They pass law after law after law. All so filled with loop holes they wait a year or so. Pass more laws trying to close those. Gigantic waste of money. Stop the loony tunes

  5. Most of these legislators are already professionals and business owners with good salaries. The compensation they receive is more than appropriate. The “ballooning workload” is self imposed. They should work more efficiently with less sessions, and stop burdening the tax payer during this recession. The reality is government bureaucrats and politicians are giving themselves pay raises while many private sector people in the state and country are suffering under this economy. Some did not recover from the pandemic response policies. If it wasn’t a money maker, why do we have so many career politicians? Term limits at all levels of government would solve a lot of problems.

  6. The audit said state employees are $5000 underpaid annually. Are they getting a raise, no they are not.

  7. For such a Republican controlled legislature. Why do we need so many new laws. They complain about Washington over reach, how about state government over reach. Pass the budget and then stay home. You will not be missed and no one will care. Then your pay can be cut, meeting costs can be cut and we will all have a great year or two.

  8. Wyoming Retirement folks has not received any pay increase since 2012. A school teacher who retired 25 years ago, receives a very small amount as the wages were low 25 years ago. Also, their social security is very low because, again, the salaries 25 years ago were much lower. I have met some retirees living on less that $1000 a month. The Lawmakers decline to face this issues each year when it is approached. I would ask them to please consider a raise for the Wyoming Retired prior to considering a raise for themselves.

    1. The bigoted “leaders” of our state have an inflated value of their worth.

      Kowtowing to their party makes them think that they are worth more than a cup of coffee is laughable. They should keep their racist and bigoted beliefs in their home. Wyoming residents shouldn’t have to pay them a dime more than what they are making already

  9. It is interesting to compare the compensation against other states. Annual review of rates may be necessary to ensure our representatives can continue showing up without losing their personal financial stability and insurance.