Arizona Lawmakers Look To Boost Their Daily Expense Pay

Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2020 - 8:28am
Updated: Tuesday, February 11, 2020 - 4:34pm

Arizona lawmakers are trying again to raise the amount they receive for daily expenses, this time with a proposal that will only boost pay for lawmakers who live outside Maricopa County.

The proposal approved on a 6-1 vote Monday by the Senate Government Committee would increase daily expense pay for those lawmakers from $60 a day to the federal rate of nearly $190 per day.

The proposal appears to address concerns Republican Gov. Doug Ducey raised when he vetoed a measure last year that would have boosted expense pay for all lawmakers. The governor said in a veto letter that there was a strong case to be made for boosting expenses for rural lawmakers who must drive to Phoenix and maintain an apartment here. He notably left out lawmakers representing Maricopa County. Ducey also said any increase should not cover current lawmakers.

The proposal from GOP Sen. Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City would go into effect next January, after all 90 members of the Legislature have either been re-elected or replaced in November. It also contains a provision allowing lawmakers to decline the increase.

Arizona lawmakers earn $24,000 per year, plus daily expenses when the Legislature is in session and when they do legislative work outside of the 100-day session. The daily stipend is now $60 for rural lawmakers and $35 for Maricopa County residents. Both are among the lowest in the nation.

“The last time the per diem changed was 1984. Back then $60 went a long way,” Borrelli said in an interview Monday. “There’s no way you’re going to find a hotel at $60 a day — if you do, your stuff’s not going to be there when you get back.”

Last year’s measure was introduced in legislative session's final days and passed by wide margins. Rural lawmakers especially looked at a raise in expense pay as a crucial item. It drew heat not only from Ducey but from members of the public who objected to the last-minute introduction.

That public backlash didn't appear at Monday's hearing.

Phoenix resident Leonard Clark, a frequent commenter at legislative hearings, acknowledged he was harsh on lawmakers last year. But he said he supports this year’s proposal because it comes early enough for public scrutiny.

“I know it won’t be popular,” Clark said. “But how can you do good decisions when you’re concerned about paying your bills just because you come here."

Sen. Victoria Steele, a Tucson Democrat, said she uses her own cash to do her job and is barely making ends meet.

"I drive up from Tucson and this is my only job," Steel said Monday. “So I literally am paying to do this work. And I’m in my 60s, so I have used all of my retirement money so that I can pay my bills. There’s nothing else left.”

Steele also said that being a lawmaker is not a part-time job, despite the relative short length of the annual session where lawmakers meet in Phoenix.

“I know it’s described as a part-time job, but this is well more than full time,” she said. “I love this work, but as it is right now it’s not sustainable for me to do it.”

The only opposition came from Democratic Sen. Juan Mendez of Phoenix, who said the expense boost doesn't address the real problem of low salaries.

“This is the wrong way to be addressing the problem,” Mendez said at the hearing. "I would hate for this to pass and everybody thinks that they solved our pay problem.”

Lawmakers set their own per diem rates, while voters set salaries and have rejected six efforts to boost salaries since they last approved an increase in 1998.

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