A bill that would give Wyoming’s 93 state legislators their first per diem increase since 2005 to help cover travel and other expenses while performing their duties as elected officials advanced through a House committee Tuesday.
Senate File 61 would bump the per diem from $109 a day to the most recent per diem rates established by the U.S. General Services Administration for locations in Wyoming. This is not an increase in the salary of Wyoming Legislature members, but rather a reimbursement for travel expenses.
The current rate set by the federal GSA is $98 for lodging and $59 for meals per day while in legislative service, meaning if passed, lawmakers could expense up to $157 per day.
There are specific rates for southwest and northwest Wyoming that are significantly higher and will increase after June 1. For instance, the GSA rate for Cody in 2022 was $231 for lodging in the winter and goes up to $351 during the summer. Teton and Sublette counties are $286 per day during the winter and $462 in the summer.
The original version of the bill proposed increasing to a fixed rate of $155 per day. Under an amendment made in the Senate Rules Committee, the per diem rate will adjust according to the federal GSA rate. A new rate would be considered each July 1 as determined by the state auditor.
This is the procedure already in place for mileage compensation.
Supporters Say It’s Badly Needed
The per diem rates and legislator salary have not increased since approved in 2005, which went into effect in 2008. Supporters of the bill have said a per diem increase is badly needed due to the significant increase in inflation since that time.
The House Revenue Committee passed the bill with a 6-3 vote. It will next move to the House floor, its last major hurdle before it can head to Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk. SF 61 narrowly passed through the Senate on Jan. 26 with a 16-15 vote.
Within the bill is an increase of $125,000 apportioned to the Legislative Service Office for the increase in per diem. There is another increase of $75,000 for the State Auditor’s Office to compensate members of boards and commissions.
The increase in per diem also would apply to members of state boards, commissions, councils and other authorities who are paid from the state’s general fund.
“We’re a pretty small player in all this; it’s the boards and commissions,” said Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, chair of the House Revenue Committee, about the financial impact of the increase. “And same with our salaries.”
Matt Obrecht, director of the Legislative Service Office, said there are 52 boards and commissions tied to the rates.
In January 2022, the Management Council created a subcommittee to consider legislator compensation options.
The council performed a similar study in 2019 and Legislature passed a bill that year to boost per diem rates. Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed the legislation because it limited rates for lawmakers with primary residences within 25 miles of the Capitol in Cheyenne. This is not included in SF 61.
Legislation offering workers compensation for lawmakers also passed that year.
A bill proposed this year that would have allowed legislators to participate in the same employee group health insurance plan as state officials and receive the same employee contribution from the state died in the Senate on a 22-9 vote.
Another bill that would have increased the constituent service allowance for lawmakers – money to travel within their districts – was defeated 26-5 in the Senate.
A bill that would have given a pay raise to legislative salaries also was drafted during the interim summer session in 2022, but it failed to get the support from the Management Council.