Appeals to raise salaries for legislators and civil servants, family planning funding - JBC's top public hearing (2023)

The joint budget committee heard requests that haven't always been on the top priority list this week, as the panel gave the public a chance to rate its priorities for the state capitol.

Typically, those who testify at these hearings raise concerns about payment or funding on behalf of government officials, public schools, and college students and faculty.

But Wednesday's hearing brought with it slightly different priorities.

A trio of women pleaded with the joint budget committee to address the growing crisis at family planning clinics across the state as they are inundated with patients who have long waits for family planning services at places like Planned Parenthood.


Lauren Smith, director of policy at Elephant Circle and Soul to Soul Sisters, a reproductive justice nonprofit, urged the JBC to consider a $2 million increase for the Department of Public Health and the Environment's 80 family planning clinics in Colorado who do not offer abortion services.

After Roe's fall, the need for family planning services is greater than ever, she told JBC. CDPHE's family planning program closes the care gap for low-income communities, including in rural areas, and reduces unwanted pregnancies.

Smith was joined by Kayla Frawley, director of abortion and reproductive rights at Progress Now Colorado, and Amanda Carlson of Cobalt Advocates. Frawley told Colorado Politics that the $2 million would give an additional 5,000 Colorado residents access to these services.

Hunter Nelson of the Colorado Children's Campaign told Colorado Politics that because Colorado is one of the states people are turning to for abortion treatments, waiting lists for places like Planned Parenthood have increased from a few days to a few weeks. As a result, people are unable to access Planned Parenthood's family planning services, which can also be urgent. Instead, they turn to government clinics, which need more resources to provide these services.

The additional funding for the CDPHE "will ease some of the pressure on providers offering a full range of reproductive services while ensuring continued access to family planning services for Coloradoans statewide," according to a recent post on the state blog Colorado Action Kids.

Despite the attention given to Colorado as a haven state for abortion treatments and the knock-on effect on family planning clinics, the increase in CDPHE funding was not included in Gov. Jared Polis' 2023-24 state budget proposal.

Another demand not on the radar: an increase in MP salaries.

This came from Anette Bowser, the chair of the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus. Bowser did not speak on behalf of the caucus Wednesday.

Colorado, which she called a "hybrid legislative state," is in the middle of the pack for what it pays to lawmakers. When the annual salary of $41,449 is divided by a 40-hour week, it comes out to $21.58 per hour, Bowser said. However, the average household income in the state is about $80,000, so lawmakers barely earn half of that.

"They earn below the poverty line," Bowser said.

Some states, including Colorado, compensate with per diems. It's $234 a day during the session for lawmakers who live 50 miles or more from Denver, but only $45 a day for those living within 50 miles.

"Why do I care what you do?" said Bowser. "Personally, I believe that the salary of our MPs determines the caliber of the MPs and their skills."

Bowser said lawmakers have to work 120 days from January to May for their pay and the rest of the year for voters.

"Our legislators need to be paid for this time as well," he added.

Although MPs are only paid for the days they sit in session, their annual salary is paid in 12 installments spread over each month of the year.

JBC members did not comment.

While Bowser does not share the views of the Democratic Black Caucus, a member of that caucus has raised the issue on social media.

Rep. Elisabeth Epps, D-Denver, commented last week that she was struggling to pay for medication while urging lawmakers to look at prescription drug prices, not her salary.

In December, she also took to social media to point out that an unnamed lawmaker had decided not to run again because she couldn't afford it.

I don't understand how/why legislators work for free. I am so stressed. One of my favorites said he stopped running because he couldn't afford it. I thought he was exaggerating. I didn't even take the oath and I see that he spoke that truth.

— 🤷🏽‍♀️Talvez Elisabeth Epps (@elisabethepps)December 24, 2022

In the month before the start of the legislative period, she also spoke of "working for free".

“Think about who can do all this for free. And who doesn't," she tweeted.

We took office on January 9th. The session lasts 120 days; we receive from january to may. (~$42,000). But all of the work to prepare your pre-file—writing, editing, engaging stakeholders, MTGs, etc.—must be done in the months leading up to January 4th. * Think about who can and cannot do all this for free.

— 🤷🏽‍♀️Talvez Elisabeth Epps (@elisabethepps)December 24, 2022

Another group who testified about the pay included members of the Colorado state labor union, WINS, which recently negotiateda three-year contract upgradewith the state. The contract guarantees a minimum wage of $15.75 an hour and a "remodeled salary plan to make the state more competitive with other employers to attract and retain an exceptional workforce." All of this was included in the budget presented by the governor on November 1st.

This contract also includes a 5% increase in the cost of living.

The salary schedule mentioned in the contract update refers to what were formerly known as "increments," a way for employees to move through the salary range. This ended when lawmakers introduced a so-called "pay for performance" in 1998, although it was neither fully implemented nor fully funded.

However, the tier system of the 1990s has been criticized for not rewarding long-serving employees. It granted annual raises to employees for the first five years of service and no further raises until year 10.

Lorenzo Harris, tax policy adviser to the Treasury Department and a member of WINS, said that by voting to fund the contract and reinstate the phased increases nationwide, this committee will show it is serious about its commitment to state employees.

"The step increases will address important financial and professional burdens on government employees, provide us with economic stability and provide social stability for our residents," Harris said.

The 5 percent increase in the cost of living will allow him to stay in Denver, he said.

The cost of living was also praised by Skip Miller, an IT officer at the Colorado School of Mines and President of Colorado WINS.

The call for more money didn't sit well with JBC Rod Bockenfeld's rep, R-Watkins, who said he had to answer to his constituents. State employees have made a compromise, he pointed out: the state, like schools and local governments, pays a defined benefit plan in exchange for a lower salary. State officials have said they are willing to take an upfront pay cut and ultimately reward themselves from the defined benefit plan administered by the Civil Servants Pension Fund, Bockenfeld said.

But now officials want market wages and their constituents are struggling with that, he said.

"The people who pay the taxes are getting less profitable packages from an overall compensation standpoint," he said.

Miller responded that the solution was to bring defined benefit plans back into the private sector, but agreed that “this is a bargain we got; we understand that we're not going to make as much in the public sector as we could in the private sector, that's part of the package."

He added that workers need to be able to earn a living wage and there are some who are really struggling and these are the ones WINS is most concerned about.

"We want to continue working for the state, we love our jobs, but we have to live with the state's cost of living as it is," Miller said.

Editor's note: Anette Bowser was misidentified in a previous version.

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