PHOENIX — A Southern Arizona senator is pushing a last-minute proposal to eliminate the requirement that voters set the salaries of legislators.
If the measure is approved and ratified by voters in November, it guarantees lawmakers would at least double the $24,000 a year they now get — if not more.
The idea is being pushed by Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista.
Gowan did not propose the plan at the beginning of the session when bills were supposed to be introduced. That would have ensured at least two public hearings and plenty of time for input.
Instead, Gowan got Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, to let him strike the new language onto another, unrelated bill and have it scheduled to be heard at 9:30 a.m. Monday in the House Appropriations Committee she chairs. If it is approved there, it goes to the full House and then the Senate with no further hearings.
It is crafted in a way to pull in Democratic support, and not just because there are likely to be Democratic lawmakers interested in bringing home more cash. It also expands the Commission on Salaries for Elective State Offices from five members to seven, giving the House and Senate Democratic leaders each a chance to choose members.
It is that commission that decides how much is paid to other elected state officials, from governor on down, with the exception of the members of the legislature.
They get a raise only when approved by voters. The last one, to $24,000 a year, was approved in 1998.
Gowan’s measure is set up so lawmakers would no longer have to seek voter approval for a pay hike. Instead, they automatically would earn 60% of whatever the governor gets paid.
So even if the panel does not recommend changing the $95,000 salary of the governor, that immediately would translate to legislative pay of $57,000.
There’s something else in the proposal: It would give senators four-year terms, though House members would be limited to just two. And it would allow House and Senate members to serve up to 12 years in the same chamber, up from the current eight.
The saving grace of the last-minute maneuver is that lawmakers won’t get the last word on how their salaries are set. It would be up to voters in November to decide if they want to give up the right to determine how much lawmakers should be paid.
That may require some convincing, given the results of prior ballot measures to increase legislative pay.
That fact of voter sentiment has not escaped Gowan, who was first elected to the legislature in 2008. He argues the current salary, the one set by voters in 1998, puts the hourly pay at $11.54, less than the minimum wage of $12.80.
“The process for salary increases, even for cost of living, is broken and limits the number of people who can run for office,’’ Gowan said.
But what Gowan does not say is that the framers of the Arizona Constitution set up what was supposed to be a citizen legislature, where people would come to the Capitol, enact laws and the budget, and then go home to other jobs.
Gowan himself is a martial-arts instructor. He has sold fireworks during the days their possession here is legal.
As to the change in term limits, Gowan said in his statement it allows lawmakers “to gain a better depth of knowledge on the increasingly complex policy issues facing the Legislature.”
But Gowan did not respond to a question of why he chose to wait until late March — more than 70 days into what is supposed to be a 100-day session — to unveil the plan and have it go through the regular hearing process.
Gowan also is seeking to sweeten the deal in a bid to get public support.
The measure, HB 1180, contains some items designed to promote transparency in the legislative process.
That includes a new requirement for lobbyists to report any expenditure made on behalf of lawmakers within five business days, “allowing a real-time look into who is attempting to influence a legislator,’’ he said. Now, such reports are filed only quarterly.
Potentially more significant, the measure removes many of the exemptions from what has to be reported as a gift to a public official.
Now, that list of what is acceptable includes everything from fees for speaking engagements to food, beverages, travel and lodging.
Gowan is giving this to voters as an all-or-nothing package: If they reject the plan to change how legislative pay in November, they don’t get the transparency provisions.
Gowan is no stranger to pushing the idea that lawmakers need more money.
He was behind a 2021 measure to give lawmakers from outside Maricopa County a “per diem’’ allowance of $207 for every day the legislature is in session — $151 for lodging and $56 for meals. Prior to that they were getting just $60 a day, and only for the first 120 days of the session.