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News / Clark County News

Rivers ‘sick to my stomach’ over hike in Senate per diem

Benton, Cleveland defend increase

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer
Published: March 25, 2014, 5:00pm

State Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said a Senate committee’s vote on Tuesday to boost the daily stipend lawmakers receive during the legislative session made her “sick to my stomach.”

“I think this decision seems to reflect a disconnect between some senators and the people they say they represent,” Rivers said. “We haven’t observed a teacher COLA (cost of living adjustment) increase in years. We haven’t given COLAs to other public servants. We’re closing down parks and yet, we can pay ourselves more?”

The Senate Facilities and Operations Committee voted 4-3 to approve the increase. Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, chairs the committee and cast the deciding vote in favor of increasing the per diem.

The vote boosts the amount senators receive from $90 to $120 a day and increases a stipend for legislative staff by $10 a day.

Rivers said she won’t accept the additional $30 a day. She added that $90 a day goes a long way, “especially when lobbyists are buying people dinners every night and every meal for some senators.”

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, had a different take. The point of a citizen legislature, she said, is to allow regular people to run for elected office.

“When there aren’t resources allowed for everyday people, like moms, wives and everyday people like myself to serve, it only leaves those who are wealthy or have the means to devote their own resources,” she said, adding that defeats the purpose of having a citizen legislature.

Living in Vancouver and relocating to Olympia during the legislative session can be costly, Cleveland said.

Rivers also blasted the committee for a lack of transparency.

“Seems like the deal was greased,” she said, noting there wasn’t much notice before the committee met.

Cleveland was also surprised the committee voted Tuesday. The Legislature adjourned a little more than a week ago.

“I expected the meeting would have taken place before we adjourned,” she said. “But I knew it was a challenge to get everyone’s schedule to mesh.”

Benton said Tuesday that the Senate per diem rate hasn’t been increased for 10 years, that it sometimes doesn’t cover hotel costs, and that the House recently increased per diems to $120 a day for its members.

“I voted with the little guys today to make sure you don’t have to be wealthy to serve in the Legislature,” he said.

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Columbian Political Writer