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Bill Tying Lawmaker Pay To Budget Passes 1st Vote

DENVER (AP) - A bill to suspend Colorado lawmakers' pay and benefits if they don't pass a state budget on time got its first approval Wednesday despite unease from lawmakers who questioned the necessity of the legislation.

Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer, the bill sponsor, said the idea resonates with constituents because it sends the message that lawmakers want to hold themselves accountable.

"People get it, and they agree with the philosophy, 'If you don't do your job, you don't get paid,'" he said. But he acknowledged the idea has not been received well by some lawmakers.

"Inside the Capitol, it's not very popular," Shaffer said.

That was apparent during the hearing in a committee controlled by his party, where three Democratic lawmakers said yes to the bill but with little enthusiasm. Two Republicans voted against the bill.

"I wonder if this is an effective thing to do," said Democratic Sen. Betty Boyd. She amended the bill to include the formation of a study to review the state's budget process, a maneuver that sends the bill to another committee before it reaches the full Senate. Boyd's amendment could put a price tag on the bill, making it a tougher sell for lawmakers.

After the hearing, Boyd said she doesn't think the state's budgeting process is broken.

Shaffer, from Longmont, is also likely to face skepticism from other lawmakers because he's running for Congress in the 4th District.

Under the bill, lawmakers' pay and benefits would be suspended if they fail to finalize a state budget before they adjourn for the year, forcing a special session. Such a scenario has not played out in recent memory, but Shaffer said that doesn't make his proposal unnecessary.

"We do get budgets done, but every process can be improved and I see this as an improvement," he said.

Last year, budget negotiations dragged on longer than usual. A majority of legislators ultimately voted in favor of the budget, but not before a public fallout between Shaffer and House Speaker Frank McNulty, a Republican. Shaffer said the bill creates an incentive "to put partisan politics aside" during the budget process.

"An incentive that prevents one individual from standing in the way, whether that's an individual on the Joint Budget Committee or an individual in leadership in one of the chambers or the other," he said.

In Colorado, lawmakers are paid $30,000 annually, so they receive $2,500 per month.

A few states have mechanisms in place to incentivize lawmakers to pass budgets in a timely manner.

In Washington state, lawmakers can be charged with a criminal misdemeanor if they don't pass a budget 30 days before the start of a new biennium, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That provision has not been used, NCSL said. New York lawmakers can have their pay suspended if the budget is overdue, and California voters approved a 2010 ballot measure that also withholds lawmakers' pay if they don't pass a budget by June 15, according to NCSL.

LINK: Senate Bill 19

- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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