Voters may get say in legislative pay raise - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Voters may get say in legislative pay raise

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Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012 6:01 pm

Jan Brewer is not going to block Arizona voters from considering this year if their legislators deserve more money.

Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said Friday his boss will not do what she did two years ago: refuse to appoint her two members to the Commission on Salaries for Elective State Officials. That effectively precluded the five-member panel from meeting — and kept them from fulfilling their constitutional duty to consider legislative pay hikes every two years.

That move should pave the way for a commission meeting before the end of July — and a recommendation to voters on the November ballot of a pay hike.

But Benson said that Brewer, who served in the Legislature for 14 years, has no opinion at this point whether lawmakers should be paid more than $24,000 a year.

And voters, who get the final word, have not exactly been feeling generous: The last pay hike they approved was in 1998.

Under state law, the commission recommends salaries to the governor for all statewide elected officials and judges. She is free, though, to send her own numbers to the Legislature.

Her proposal becomes law automatically unless lawmakers either alter or reject it within the first 90 days of the session.

The process for lawmakers, however, is different: Any recommendation of the commission goes directly on the ballot. That leaves the governor out of the loop and unable to veto the raises — unless, as Brewer did in 2010, she keeps the commission from meeting.

“Governor Brewer does not believe this is an appropriate time to have a discussion of salary increases,” said Paul Senseman, her press aide at the time.

Commissions have continuously recommended pay hikes ever since that 1998 hike which took the salary from the $15,000 a year they had been making since the 1980 election. All have gone down to defeat.

Before that, they were paid $6,000 a year.

This year’s commission, whose members have not yet been named, is likely to follow suit. But the big debate is likely to be how much they should propose.

Sal Rivera, a prior commission chair, said he has consistently supported a $12,000 hike — and not only because of how long it has been since the last raise.

“We’re beyond the days of truly a part-time Legislature,” he said. “You’ve got people down there that are working extremely hard, year-round.”

But it remains unclear whether a 50 percent increase can be sold.

In fact, the 2006 ballot proposal for a $36,000 salary went down to defeat, with 52 percent of voters opposed.

So two years later, the commission tried again, but this time proposing a $30,000 salary. That was rejected by a margin of nearly 2-1.

Randie Stein, who has been the appointment of Senate leadership in the past, said that, ideally, the commission would recommend — and voters would approve — a salary that is appropriate for the office. But she said the ballot measure is an all-or-nothing proposal, and commissioners also have to be sure they are not “scaring off the electorate.”

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