A Senate panel voted Tuesday for a proposed constitutional amendment that would increase salaries and expense payments for Nevada legislators - whose pay is now cut off halfway through 120-day regular sessions.
Only Sens. Dina Titus and Valerie Wiener, both Las Vegas Democrats, voted "no" as the Legislative Operations and Elections Committee endorsed SJR11, to boost expense payments and pay lawmakers for each day in 120-day regular sessions or any special sessions.
Nevada legislators now are paid $130 a day for the first 60 days of a session. When all allowances and per diem are added to the base pay, they make about $26,600 apiece. Under SJR11, that would go up to about $34,400 for a regular session - a 29 percent increase.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, pressed for committee approval of the amendment, saying voters would have final say and he's confident they can be convinced the pay raise isn't excessive.
"We ought to encourage people to come to the Legislature to serve," Raggio said, adding, "It's hard enough today ... to get good people to become candidates."
"We ought to recognize that those who do serve in the Legislature do perform and valuable service and shouldn't be penalized in a pecuniary way for serving in the Legislature."
Raggio also said the change, if approved by legislators this session and by voters in 2006, would add just under $500,000 to total legislative costs.
The total costs likely will exceed $17 million this session, with about $1.7 million of that covering daily pay, allowances and per diem for individual legislators.
Part of the reluctance to raise lawmakers' pay, Raggio said, dates to the 1989 furor over a 300 percent legislative pension increase.
The plan was quickly repealed because of public antipathy - but not before it inflicted heavy political damage.
In the elections that followed, nearly half the Assembly and Senate seats up for grabs went to newcomers, and the pension controversy was cited as a reason for many of the incumbents not being returned to Carson City.
Sen. Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, said a key difference between the pension increase and SJR11 is that voters will make the final decision on the legislative pay raises.
Andrew List of the Nevada Association of Counties also spoke in favor of the proposal, saying the public understands "the need to compensate you for the work done."
Representatives of conservative groups such as the Nevada Eagle Forum also favored the plan.
Janine Hansen of Eagle Forum said better pay ensures diversity in the Legislature.
During the hearing, Titus and Wiener didn't state their reasons for voting against the plan. Later, Titus said both she and Wiener have opposed the plan in the past, adding, "I just don't think this is a good time to be raising legislative salaries."