Veto kills GOP pay hike opposed by local lawmakers

Veto kills GOP pay hike opposed by local lawmakers

Arizona lawmakers won’t be getting a sharp increase in their living allowances, at least not this year — and not next year, either.

But legislators representing Ahwatukee may not much care since all three voted against it in the first place.

Gov. Doug Ducey last week vetoed legislation which would have more than doubled to $92.50 the daily allowance Maricopa County lawmakers get seven days a week when the Legislature is in session. Maricopa County lawmakers currently get $35 a day.

Legislative District 18 Sen. Sean Bowie and Reps. Mitzi Epstein and Jennifer Jermaine voted against the bill in the first place, joining most – but not all – Democrats and finding some support from a few Republicans.

Stunned by the veto, some lawmakers already are exploring a new approach that may include an effort to drop Maricopa County lawmakers from any increase.

Republicans were unapologetic for supporting the allowance increase.

Scottsdale Republican Rep. Jay Lawrence said lawmakers should be paid at least $36,000 a year. The current salary of $24,000 was approved by voters in 1998.

“In California, they get over $100,000 a year plus automobiles, plus, plus, plus,” Lawrence said, noting they also get a $192-a-day per diem. “So, yeah, I believe we deserve more money because it’s an all-year job.”

He was referring to other times out of session when lawmakers need to be in Phoenix for hearings and meetings.

Rep. Noel Campbell, the Prescott Republican who sponsored the vetoed measure, said, “It just shows us they don’t think much about us. They don’t consider the needs that we have. And the truth of it is, nobody’s looking out for us except ourselves.”

Senate President Karen Fann said, “Expenses have just gotten so ridiculously high trying to find a place to live temporarily.”

The Prescott Republican added, “Next year, we’ll try something different.”

Campbell said, “We have members that are living in motor homes in not-very-nice locations,” and noted the per diem allowances have not been adjusted since 1984.

Jettisoning urban lawmakers may not be a good strategy since 53 lawmakers live in Maricopa County as opposed to 27 from the state’s other 14 counties.

The governor clearly was turned off by the fact that the bill boosted the daily allowance collected by lawmakers who live in Maricopa County from $35 a day. These are lawmakers who can go home every night and have no need for local lodging.

Ducey said he agreed with supporters that out-county lawmakers need more money because they have to find lodging during the legislative session. The bill would have more than tripled — from $60 to $180 — their daily allowance.

That can mean a hotel. But for many legislators it has meant having to rent — or buy housing in the Phoenix area, as sessions can and have run for five or six months and it is difficult to get a half-year lease.

“Arizona is the sixth largest state in terms of land area,’’ the governor wrote. “So, for rural legislators and those representing areas outside of Maricopa County, there is a strong case to be made for ensuring we are appropriately recognizing what is required for them to be here at the state Capitol in Phoenix during session.’’

Gilbert Republican Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, who voted for the bill, said “I would be perfectly OK with that” and said he would have preferred that approach “but that’s not what the bill was.”

His Gilbert Republican colleague, Rep. Travis Grantham, opposed the bill and calling it “poor timing” because it came at the end of the session.

But Grantham also said lawmakers should not ignore the needs of Maricopa County lawmakers like himself.

He said expenses can run higher than $35 a day but that perhaps $92.50 a day was not the right number.

Ducey had another objection to the bill: It would have taken effect later this year, meaning that the lawmakers who voted for it would be the ones who benefit.

“Any change in the per diem rate should also be prospective, and apply to the next Legislature, which will be sworn in on Jan. 11, 2021, following the 2020 election,’’ the governor wrote to legislative leaders. “I am open to working with legislators on such a change next session.’’

The veto — and the governor’s conclusion that Maricopa County lawmakers don’t deserve an allowance increase — annoyed Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria. He defended the provision.

“It’s part of the overall compensation package,’’ Livingston said, even though it’s listed in statute as a “subsistence allowance.’’

Livingston also suggested that the Republican governor may have done himself harm with the Legislature.

“He could have done something like this that would have benefited the 90 members, that would have made working relationships better,’’ the Peoria lawmaker said. “This makes it more strained.’’

During floor debate, Campbell, called the boost in the allowance “the right thing to do.’’

“We’re only asking to be reimbursed for our expenses,’’ he said.

But it wasn’t just Ducey who was hesitant about increasing the $35-a-day allowance to in-county lawmakers — those who do not need a Phoenix apartment.

That allowance is paid for every day the Legislature is “in session.’’ That includes Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays when lawmakers generally do not meet.

And legislators even get reimbursed for the mileage between their homes and the Capitol for every day there is an actual session.

Among the foes of the change was Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, who said his driving distance to the Capitol was such that he didn’t need to be paid $92.50 a day.

Kern also questioned the “optics’’ of lawmakers approving a sharp increase in their allowance and doing so during the last days of the session.

The political risk of voting for a sharp increase in allowance did not escape Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff. But he urged colleagues to ignore that possibility.

“Let’s rip off the Band-Aid,’’ he said.

“Let’s ignore the folks that will beat us up over it, ‘cause it will go away,’’ Thorpe argued. “This will be forgotten.”

Livingston, for his part, said he’s not concerned about the political fallout of being a Maricopa County lawmaker seeking to boost his allowance.

“I’m very strong in my district,’’ he said.

“I go to a lot of things in my district,’’ Livingston continued. “So I figured I can take the arrows easier than anybody else.’’

Campbell had urged unanimous support, saying it would “give (political) cover to anybody who has questions about it...and threaten us with retaliation because we voted to raise our per diem rate.’’

He didn’t get his wish.

The Senate vote was 22-7. There was even more doubt in the House where 23 of the 60 members voted against it.

Not all urban lawmakers — or Democrats — who voted against the bill are necessarily opposed to a per diem increase.

Tucson Democrat Randy Friese said he sees no reason why Maricopa County lawmakers shouldn’t get some raise and that the governor’s veto didn’t reject that notion outright.

He pointed out that Ducey also was unhappy that the bill would have benefitted the lawmakers who voted for it. Friese suggested delaying the effective date to 2021 may be more palatable.

During the debate last month, Livingston said there’s another reason that lawmakers, both in- and out-county, need a bump in their allowance: the Tax Cut and Jobs Act signed in late 2017 by President Donald Trump.

The law repealed a section of the tax code that allowed employees a deduction for out-of-pocket expenses that aren’t reimbursed by their employer. That means lawmakers can’t deduct from their tax bill the difference between what they spend and the $35 per diem.

But during the debate on the bill last month, Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Phoenix, questioned the idea of lawmakers approving more money for themselves even when they refused just to restore all of the funds that have been cut during the recession in state aid to public schools.

The whole idea of the vote — particularly on what is shaping up to be the last day of the legislative session — drew raised eyebrows from teachers who have been at the Capitol monitoring the votes on spending bills.

“I can’t get beyond the irony of your plight and how it is so incredibly parallel to what is going on with teachers,’’ testified Christine Marsh, who was the 2016 teacher of the year and one of the prime proponents of higher pay for educators.

Marsh pointed out that proponents of the allowance hike said it has resulted in few people interested in running for the Legislature.

“And yet that, of course, is what teachers are facing,’’ Marsh said.

She said lawmakers voting to hike their expenses should be ready for other parallels, like people telling them they knew what the job paid when they took it and they shouldn’t complain about the pay.

“That’s what we hear,’’ Marsh said. “And it’s offensive and not very cool.’’

Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, said that, under different circumstances, she might have opposed the hike in allowance.

But she pointed out that lawmakers last year approved a 9 percent increase in the average pay for teachers, with another 5 percent in the budget for this coming school year and 5 percent more earmarked for the following year.

“Having done that in the past year and the past days, I think this is appropriate,’’ Udall said.

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