Lawmakers fume over veto of bigger allowance

Legislators last month held hearings on a last-minute effort to significantly boost the daily allowance they charge taxpayers during the session, but the bill was vetoed June   7 by the governor. East Valley legislators were split in voting on the bill, with all of Chandler’s six lawmakers voting against it.

Some lawmakers already are exploring how — and when — they can finally get an increase in their living allowances after the governor vetoed a bill that had split the East Valley delegation

Gov. Doug Ducey, June 7, vetoed legislation which would have increased from $35 to $92.50 the daily allowance Maricopa County lawmakers get seven days a week when the Legislature is in session.

The bill would have tripled the per diem pay legislators in the other 14 counties receive from $60  to #180.

The legislation was opposed by all Democratic legislators representing the East Valley, but split Republicans in the region.

Supporting the pay grab were Gilbert Sen. Eddie Farnsworth. Mesa Sen. Dave Farnsworth and Reps. Kelly Townsend, Tyler Pace and Michelle Udall.

During the debate over the bill last month, Udall likened the appropriateness of raise to the pay increase teachers received.

Last week, several legislators complained that they weren’t being given the respect they deserve.

Scottsdale Republican Rep. Jay Lawrence said Arizona constituents don’t appreciate their legislators like California’s constituents appreciate theirs.

Noting that lawmakers haven’t had a salary increase since voters approved the current $24,000 a year in 1998, Lawrence said California lawmakers get a per diem of $192 and added:

“In California, they get over $100,000 a year, plus automobiles, plus, plus, plus….So, yeah, I believe we deserve more money because it’s an all-year job.’’

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said the lack of what he believes is proper compensation rankles some of his colleagues.

“It just shows us they don’t think much about us, they don’t consider the needs that we have,’’ he said. “And, the truth of it is, nobody’s looking out for us except ourselves.’’

Campbell, who sponsored the vetoed bill, said lawmakers aren’t trying to line their pockets.

“We have members that are living in motor homes in not-very-nice locations,’’ he said. “And it’s all because of inflation.’’

One question is whether rural legislators, who the governor said are clearly entitled to more, should throw their more numerous Phoenix area counterparts over the side.

“There’s some of our members that were really counting on that to help them get through the cost of serving,’’ said Senate President Karen Fann.

“Expenses have just gotten so ridiculously high just trying to find a place to live temporarily,’’ the Prescott Republican told Capitol Media Services.

Ducey, in his veto message, said he agreed with supporters that out-county lawmakers need more, given that they have to find lodging during the legislative session.

“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.’’

But the governor clearly was turned off by the fact that the bill that reached his desk also boosted the daily allowance collected by lawmakers who live in Maricopa County. These are lawmakers who can go home every night and have no need for local lodging.

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.

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.’’

Fann said, “Next year, we’ll try something different.”

But she isn’t ready to say the new version should be narrowed to only those who have to don’t live in Maricopa County.

The idea of jettisoning an allowance hike for urban lawmakers to get Ducey’s signature on a bill definitely annoyed Campbell.

“I don’t like the divide-and-conquer thing,’’ he said. “That’s not good politics.’’

It also may not be a winning strategy.

There are 53 lawmakers that live in Maricopa County versus 27 from the other 14 counties. That means it will take at least some of their votes for rural lawmakers to get the allowance boost they say they need.

But Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said she doubts voters will approve a higher salary “as long as we continue to act the way we do.”

She said there were days in the just-completed session where the Republican majority, missing one or two key members whose votes they needed, would let the whole day go by without voting on matters.

That still leaves the question of whether proponents of a higher allowance should try again next year with a measure to aid just the out-county lawmakers.

“I would be perfectly okay with that,’’ said Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, who supported the now-vetoed plan. Farnsworth said he actually would have preferred that be the proposal “but that’s not what the bill was.’’

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, opposed the allowance increase, calling the action at the end of the session “poor timing.’’

But Grantham said lawmakers should not be in any rush to ignore the needs of in-county legislators like himself. He said even they have expenses that can exceed $35 a day, though he said that perhaps the $92.50 was not the right number.

And Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, who would benefit from an increase to out-county lawmakers, said he sees no reason not to provide some financial relief to his Maricopa County counterparts.

During the debate on the bill last month, some lawmakers were hesitant about increasing the $35-a-day allowance to in-county lawmakers, 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.

Among the foes of the change was Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, who questioned the “optics’’ of lawmakers approving a sharp increase in their allowance 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 was 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.

Livingston also 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.

It repealed a section of the tax code that gave employees a deduction for the amount of out-of-pocket expenses they incurred that were not reimbursed by their employer.

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 last week 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 also 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, 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, like Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, have said the legislators’ pay make 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.’’

Udall 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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