North Dakota lawmakers are considering whether to raise their future salaries and link their reimbursement for motels and travel to what state and federal employees receive.
The state House voted 54-38 on Tuesday to approve legislation that increases legislators' pay while they are in session from $945 to $987 weekly on July 1. It would rise again, to $1,036 weekly, on July 1, 2010.
The bill now returns to the Senate, where a vote may be delayed until the 2009 Legislature is ready to adjourn.
Its pay increases are similar to the salary adjustments the North Dakota Senate is backing for state workers. Senators have included enough money in agency spending bills to finance 5 percent raises for employees this year and next.
North Dakota law describes legislators' pay during sessions as a daily rate. At present, they are paid $135 a day, seven days a week. The bill increases that daily rate to $148, or $1,036 a week, in July 2010.
In addition to their pay when the Legislature is in session, North Dakota lawmakers get a $378 monthly salary. The bill raises that pay to $396 monthly on July 1, and $415 a month on July 1, 2010.
The legislation also ties lodging and mileage expenses for legislators and state employees to what federal workers are paid.
Lawmakers now get a monthly $900 housing allowance when the Legislature is in session. If they pay less, they are not allowed to keep the difference, and they must pay out of their own pockets if their lodgings are more expensive.
The new legislation links the monthly allowance to what the U.S. General Services Administration allows for motel reimbursements for federal employees traveling in North Dakota. Instead of a flat $900 a month, the allowance would fluctuate between $970 and $1,074 weekly.
Mileage payments would also be linked to GSA rates, the bill says. Lawmakers would see their mileage reimbursements increase from 45 cents a mile to 49.5 cents.
The bill is SB2064.
Rep. Rick Berg, R-Fargo, said the provision represented a major change in legislative compensation.
"Rather than … somewhat arbitrarily setting our mileage rate and our lodging rate, we have instituted a formula," Berg said.
Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, said she was concerned that the fluctuating rate would cause tax problems for lawmakers.
"I think there must be a simpler formula, and a better way to do this," Grande said.
The bill is SB2064.