Realities need to be addressed
It’s time to have a frank discussion regarding Arizona’s legislative salaries. There is a major brouhaha over the issue of raising the daily expense pay or per diem of state legislators. Currently, Arizona’s lawmakers are making the princely sum of $24,000 a year.
In addition they receive $35 per day for the first 120 days of regular session, and $10 each day thereafter. Legislators residing outside Maricopa County receive an extra $25 per day for the first 120 days of the regular session, and $10 a day thereafter. The rate received by the non-Maricopa lawmakers is intended to cover living expenses.
Due in large part to the relentless negative publicity hurled at Arizona’s Republican majority legislature by the liberal daily newspaper, voters have repeatedly rejected pay increases when they appeared on the ballot. The last raise was approved 15 years ago — in 1998 — when their annual salary was $15,000. In the intervening years, several ballot proposals to boost the annual salary to $30,000 have been nixed.
Although the job is referred to as part time, constituents rightly expect to have access to their state senators and representatives throughout the year. Numerous issues arise requiring legislators’ attention. Also, governors can, and do, call special sessions after the regular session has concluded.
Because the pay is so low, the legislature has become a haven for retirees, various “consultants,” housewives, and a plethora of school board members and others connected to the education establishment, who do not have to rely on the low salary to support a family.
Requirements of the job, coupled with the low pay restricts the average Arizonan from participating in what was designed to be a citizen legislature.
Union teachers claim their average salary of more than $50,000 plus benefits is too low for a job with four months off every year. How do we justify such a low pay scale for those entrusted with lawmaking for the state?
This chart shows legislative salaries by state. The highest salaried states include additional per diem allowances, in recognition of basic living costs. Even the non-too-fancy Travellodge comes in around $50 per night excluding the aggregated “privilege” tax imposed by the state, city and county. As an example, in 2010 Scottsdale had a 14.920% hotel and motel “bed tax”.
Article 5, Section 12 of the Arizona Constitution refers to the five-member Commission on Salaries for Elective State Officers, which makes salary recommendations for a wide range of officials. The per diem raise would bypass this group and the ballot.
It’s time to acknowledge the real world facts. Our legislators deserve a break.