- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia’s part-time lawmakers need a raise, members of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s ethics commission said Wednesday.

The $18,000 annual salary plus per diem for legislators isn’t enough to recruit good people and doesn’t begin to cover all the time lawmakers put in, members of the governor’s Commission on Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government said.

“The current legislative compensation is nowhere near adequate,” said former Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who is co-chairman of the panel. “It’s just not.”

Although some lawmakers may privately agree, history suggests they are unlikely to vote to give themselves raises.

Through a spokesman, Republican House Speaker William J. Howell said a legislative pay bump is “not something that would be considered moving forward.”

The last time Virginia’s lawmakers got a raise was in 1988, and lawmakers have rejected past efforts at raising pay since then. The House even took a small pay cut several years ago, bringing a delegate’s annual compensation to $17,640.

Bolling said some lawmakers supplement their take-home pay with an office allowance and payments for attending conferences. With any raise, Bolling said, those kinds of income add-ons should go away.

Former Republican Del. Joe May, who is also on the governor’s commission, said the financial strain of serving in office can be a deterrent to qualified candidates.

“Honestly, I think we’re missing the services of some very, very good people who, with only a modest increase in … income, could afford to serve,” May said.

The commission members acknowledged that lawmakers approving raises for themselves would likely be politically unpopular but said it was still a goal worth pursuing.

The panel, which is also led by former Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, also discussed whether Virginia should put limits on how campaign funds can be spent.

Virginia is just one of three states that don’t prohibit personal use of campaign funds, according to an analysis by state officials based on data supplied by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“It’s really the wild, wild West out there,” May said. “I’ve seen things which really would be truly questionable.”

The commission also indicated it may in the future examine whether Virginia should impose limits on campaign contributions. Virginia is one of a handful of states with no limits.

Virginia’s elected officials have been trying to improve the state’s generally lax ethics rules for the past two years in response to former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s gift scandal. McDonnell is appealing the two-year prison sentenced he received after a jury found him and his wife, Maureen, guilty of taking bribes from a vitamin salesman.

Lawmakers passed a last-minute ethics package that put new gift limits in place earlier this year, after some resistance by some senators who felt the measure unnecessary. But Bolling said Wednesday that Virginia has much work left to do in cleaning up its state government.

“I heard a lot of legislators say, ‘Well, we’ve dealt with that. We’ve done all we’re going to do on that.’ Well, I hope not,” Bolling said. “There are still some big issues here that need to be addressed.”

The commission is set to continue discussions in July and is scheduled to issue recommendations to McAuliffe in November.

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