DENVER (AP) – Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler told lawmakers Wednesday they should have a state commission review the salaries of state elected officials after he was criticized for wanting to work part-time for his old law firm.
Gessler has said he would like to keep working as a consultant for the Hackstaff Law Group — a firm prominent in election law cases — if all the clients agreed to release their names. He said there was no conflict of interest in the move.
He also told lawmakers the state underpays its elected officials. His current job as secretary of state pays $68,500 a year.
Colorado lawmakers currently set the salaries of statewide elected officials.
Gessler said he wasn’t complaining about his state paycheck.
“I do think Colorado would be better served by, for example, appointing some type of citizens commission to regulate and review elected officials’ salaries, essentially removing that decision from elected officials,” he said.
Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, said Gessler’s situation reflects the financial difficulties faced by elected officials.
“The predicament you find yourself in just points out how poorly paid our elected officials are. It’s no secret to any of us, but I wonder if maybe this is an opportunity to use the pay and the difficulty of supporting a family on that to seek approval for higher salaries,” Levy said.
Gov. John Hickenlooper is paid $90,000 a year, less than many members of his Cabinet, but he’s independently wealthy as a former brew pub owner. Legislators, who are part-time and often have outside jobs, are paid $30,000 a year plus expenses.
Treasurer Walker Stapleton said he also was planning to take a part-time job with his former employer, a real estate investment firm, and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia is taking another job after Hickenlooper appointed him to head the Department of Higher Education.
Garcia will be paid a total of $146,040 a year, which includes his lieutenant governor salary of $68,500. Hickenlooper said the move will save the state $77,540. The appointment will require legislative approval.
Gessler said his state salary of $68,500 is not enough to support his family, including a 2-year-old child and his 72-year-old mother, who is financially dependent on him. still, he planned to remain in office.
Stapleton said his real estate investment firm, which is publicly traded, doesn’t do business in Colorado, and the state does not invest in equities. He also has no plans to quit his day job.
Stapleton, who is paid $68,500 as treasurer, said he just wants to continue to oversee his investments.
Gessler also told the House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee that he plans to keep $3.5 million for the secretary of state’s office that his predecessor had offered to lawmakers to help balance the budget. The money came from filing fees businesses paid to the office.
Gessler said he was considering reducing the fees as a way to give some of the money back to businesses.
Lawmakers are facing a budget shortfall of up to $1.1 billion in the fiscal year that begins in July.
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