We would prefer Arizona legislators increase their compensation the same way John Houseman told us that Smith Barney accomplished the task in 1979.
“They earn it,” Houseman is famous for saying, in relating the success of the Smith Barney investment firm.
State lawmakers are on the brink of adopting an initiative that would more than triple the expense allowance paid to rural legislators, increasing the in-session per diem from $60 a day to the amount received by federal employees in Arizona, $203. Lawmakers living in Maricopa County would see their daily allowance increase from its current rate of $35 to $53.
Our Sen. David Gowan, R, Sierra Vista, is a leading proponent for the “strike-everything” House Bill 2053, which was originally sponsored by Rep. John Kavanaugh, R, Fountain Hills.
It’s not the first time state lawmakers have tried to find a way to increase their compensation. A similar per diem proposal, also strongly supported by Sen. Gowan, passed the Legislature two years ago but was vetoed by Gov. Ducey. The governor opposed increasing the daily allowance for lawmakers living in Maricopa County, but voiced his support for paying out-of-county legislators a higher per diem.
Boosting the allowance is a side door to increasing the overall pay received by our legislators. The Arizona Constitution stipulates that a higher wage for lawmakers requires approval by the Commission on Salaries for Elective State Officers, followed by voter approval by referendum. The last time that happened was 1998, when annual compensation for representatives and senators was increased to $24,000. A ballot measure in 2014 to boost wages from $24,000 to $35,000 failed by a 2-to-1 margin and represented the 16th time since 1972 that state voters rejected an initiative to pay lawmakers more money.
Not surprisingly, HB 2053 has strong bipartisan support. The measure received “yes” votes from the Republican and Democratic caucuses on Thursday, after previously sailing through the Senate Appropriations Committee, which Sen. Gowan chairs, on a 9-1 vote.
Despite its somewhat distasteful approach — we oppose the idea of lawmakers voting to increase the annual compensation for future lawmakers — we agree on the need for this action.
Serving in the state Legislature should not cost our elected representatives money from their own pocket. That’s currently the case for those who live outside Maricopa County. Legislators from rural areas are renting a room, staying at a hotel or making other arrangements that often exceed the $60 allowance for each day of the session — usually about 100 days.
Unfortunately for these lawmakers the Arizona Legislature meets from January through May, which is prime tourism season in the Phoenix area and a time when nightly hotel rates and menu prices at local restaurants are higher than during the summer.
Increasing annual compensation for our legislators should be decided by answering the question of whether the pay for lawmakers is enough to attract truly qualified candidates who are motivated to accomplish good public policy.
We would prefer voters decide whether the current compensation received by lawmakers is enough to accomplish good government, instead of lawmakers deciding to award themselves a much-needed increase in the daily allowance.