Jerry Kopel


Suppose you work on an assembly line, and the last time you received a pay raise was 14 years ago. A new worker comes on board and is placed next to you on the same line. You make $7 an hour and you discover he or she is starting out on the very first day at $12 an hour. Are you unhappy?

If you are one of 18 holdover members of the Colorado Senate, it won't do you any good to bitch. Any senator elected in November, 1998 gets a $30,000 base salary. Any senator elected in 1996 for a four year term continues to get a base salary of $17,500.

That's because the state constitution in Article 12, Section 11, (which applies to all elected public officials) states: "....nor shall the salary of any elected public official be increased or decreased during the term of office for which he was elected."

But as you read on, you'll discover five of the 18 Senate holdovers can legitimately make $30,000 for legislative work done.

Of course legislators, present or new, get a great deal more than $17,500 or $30,000 for the regular 120 day session. If you live in the Denver metropolitan area, you are entitled (if you claim it) to $45 per legislative day. The "Denver area" is Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Clear Creek, Denver, Douglas, Gilpin, and Jefferson counties. That's a maximum of $5,400 added to your base salary, because the federal government considers it to be wages.

If you don't live in the metropolitan area, you are entitled to $99 per day. That's a maximum of $11,880. But that sum IS NOT added to your base salary because the federal government considers it to be expenses. You are also entitled to receive "travel expenses to such member's home and back to the capitol for each legislative day of actual attendance."

The reason why the numbers are $5,400 or $11,880 is because the "legislative day" includes Saturday and Sundays even though the legislature usually doesn't meet on weekends except close to the end of the session.

When the legislature is not in session, members are paid $99 per day for attendance on legislative council, council committees, interim committees, statutory committees, committees of reference, or Legal Services Committee. If you are a member of the Joint Budget Committee (which meets quite often during the interim) or the Legislative Audit Committee, you get the $99 per day.

If you are one of the leaders: House Speaker, Senate President, House and Senate majority and minority leader, "for attendance to matters pertaining to the general assembly, whether such matters are at the capitol or elsewhere..." you are entitled to the $99. That means if you work at home on matters pertaining to the general assembly, it counts for $99. All of these $99 payments are taxable as wages.

During the 245 days the legislature is not is session, holdover senators Ray Powers, R-El Paso, president of the Senate; Tom Blickensderfer, R-Arapahoe/Jefferson, Senate majority leader; Elsie Lacy, R-Arapahoe, of the Joint Budget Committee; Mike Feeley, D-Jefferson, minority leader; and Gloria Tanner, D-Denver, of the Joint Budget Committee, will be doing legislative work. If it happens that their legislative duties require 126 more days of work, their salaries become $29,974.

In addition, all legislators are reimbursed for actual and necessary travel and subsistence expenses for the meetings, plus "actual and necessary travel within the member's district while attending to legislative business."

Where these salary additions really show up is in retirement under the Public Employees Retirement Assn. The variations involved are quite incomprehensible and eye glazing to a mere mortal, but basically, the more you earn which is considered income and not expenses, the more you get when retired. So members of leadership and the JBC can look forward to larger sums of retirement money than the average legislator.

A salary of $30,000 plus isn't really a large salary considering the responsibilities involved. If a member of the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) makes $40,000 or more in salary from various income sources, remember the JBC deals with a $11 billion general fund budget that will only increase in future years.

And legislators do NOT get paid for the time spent walking door to door in election years.

* * *

Sometimes you start reading a new book and discover a gem within you never knew existed. That happened to me as I began reading Abuse of Power (The New Nixon Tapes) by Stanley Kutler (Free Press), which presents portions of another batch of Nixon tapes, 200 hours total, which were released in November, 1996.

The time is July, 1971. Daniel Ellsberg had leaked, and the New York Times had published the Pentagon Papers, a 7,000 page document regarding the war in Vietnam which, according to Kutler "threw considerable light on the differences between public knowledge of events and the government's actual conduct of the war."

President Richard Nixon was obsessed with getting revenge against the Democrats and wanted to embarrass previous Democratic presidents: Kennedy over the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis, Johnson over the Vietnam bombing halt, Truman over Korea, and Roosevelt over World War II, by gathering and leaking secret documents.

Nixon, Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman, plus Charles Colson, and John Ehrlichman gathered in the Oval Office to discuss who in Congress to use to distribute the leaks to the press.

James D. "Mike" McKevitt was a 43-year-old Republican from Denver who had served as Denver District Attorney and elected to Congress in November of 1970 over Democrat Craig Barnes, with 51.5 percent of the votes cast. Barnes had earlier defeated Rep. Byron Rogers in the 1970 Democratic primary.

The first person being considered to pass out leaks was Rep. John Rousselot (R-Cal.) about whom Nixon remarks

 "Rousselot will be fine. He's mean, tough, ruthless. He'll lie, do anything. That's what you need."

"Haldeman: The other guy might be McKevitt, if he will do all those things."

"President Nixon: I'm not sure McKevitt is conservative enough. He's been a prosecutor. The question is, is he conservative?"

The group then discusses the type of person they want. Nixon wants someone to be another Sen. Joe McCarthy or another Sen. Bob Dole. Nixon had earlier rehashed for the group his role in the Alger Hiss case and how he had leaked information to the press and because of the Hiss case, ended up in the U.S. Senate.

"Haldeman: A congressman has such a great opportunity with this."

"Nixon: That's right. Bob is right."

"Haldeman: You take a pipsqueak like McKevitt or Rousselot that nobody has ever heard of, you can make --sonofabitch could make himself a Senator overnight."

I'm positive Mike McKevitt never knew his name was being bandied about in this "plot". McKevitt lost the 1972 election to Pat Schroeder, stayed in Washington and became a lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business.


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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