Ducey vetoes large increase in legislator ‘expense’ pay

By: - June 7, 2019 5:44 pm

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Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday vetoed a bill that would have more than tripled the amount of expense pay lawmakers would receive, saying that legislators should have not applied the pay increase to themselves.

In his veto letter, Ducey noted that “there is a strong case to be made” for paying lawmakers from rural counties enough to cover their expenses to live in Phoenix during the annual legislative session, but he made no mention of paying Maricopa County lawmakers more.

“Any change in the per diem rate should also be prospective, and apply to the next Legislature, which will be sworn in on January 11, 2021, following the 2020 election,” he wrote.

Lawmakers currently earn $35 per day in per diem if they’re from Maricopa County and $60 per day if they’re from outside the county. That amount drops to $10 and $20, respectively, if the legislative session lasts longer than 120 days. Per diem rates for lawmakers haven’t increased since 1985.

Legislators’ salaries are $24,000 and only the voters can increase it, something they haven’t done since 1998. But the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in 1947 that per diem, unlike legislative salaries, can be increased without voter approval.

Supporters of the per diem increase argued that the current rates are unfair to lawmakers, especially those from rural areas. Legislators from outside Maricopa County must pay for housing near the Capitol during the legislative session, which can sometimes drag on through May or June. Several lawmakers said during the debate over SB1558 that the current pay structure discourages people who aren’t wealthy from serving in the legislature.

Opponents countered that lawmakers knew what they signed up for when they decided to run. And they argued that raising per diem rates would violate the will of the voters, who have repeatedly rejected proposed legislative pay raises over the past 20 years. Some said it would be appropriate to increase per diem for lawmakers from outside Maricopa County, but not for those who live in the county.

SB1558 would have roughly tripled the amount of per diem that legislators receive. Lawmakers from outside Maricopa County would have received $185 per day, while those who reside in the county would have gotten half that amount.

For a 100-day session, which is the theoretical benchmark for the legislature to conclude its business each year, Maricopa County lawmakers would have received $9,250 in per diem, nearly $6,000 more than under the current rates. Lawmakers from outside the county would have gotten $18,500, which is an additional $12,500.

Under the vetoed rates, a 100-day session would have cost the state about $767,000 in additional per diem payments.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”