- Associated Press - Thursday, March 10, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia lawmakers are set to give themselves potentially significant pay raises by boosting their take-home for attending official meetings when the legislature is not in session to $300 from $200 a day.

A new budget proposal set to be approved by the General Assembly on Friday includes $213,065 extra each year for the pay bump, which averages about $1,500 extra per lawmaker a year. But senior lawmakers who are on more committees and attend more meetings could see a bigger increase.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe would still have to sign the budget before the pay bump would go into effect and could try to veto or amend the proposal. His spokesman declined to comment.

Proponents of the pay increase say it’s necessary because the meeting payment has been set at $200 since 2000. But one lawmaker has been vocally critical of the proposed increase, saying lawmakers shouldn’t increase their take-home pay so soon after an election. All 140 of the General Assembly’s seats were up for election in November.

“We should be upfront with people about this,” freshman GOP Sen. David Suetterlein said. “I don’t think there was one candidate for the House or Senate this year to my knowledge who ran saying they intended to increase their compensation.”

The Virginia Constitution bars lawmakers from increasing their salaries during their current terms but does not prohibit them from increasing their allowances.

Lawmakers are paid about $18,000 a year in salary, plus a $185 per diem while the legislature is in session and $1,250 monthly office allowances that can be used for any purpose.

In addition to the $200 for attending an out-of-session meeting, lawmakers are reimbursed mileage, meals and hotels for those trips.

Some lawmakers also use campaign accounts to cover costs related to meetings. Virginia has one of the least restrictive campaign finance systems in the country; lawmakers are allowed to spend campaign accounts for virtually anything, including personal use.

Initially, only the Senate’s budget proposal included the increase for its members only. House Appropriations Chairman S. Chris Jones said House budget negotiators reluctantly agreed to the pay increases in exchange for cutting some of the Senate’s other requests, like for greater staff budgets.

“They were not willing to move on the per diem,” Jones said.

He said the latest budget includes raises for both chambers because it would be unfair for House members to be paid less for attending meetings than senators.

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