- Associated Press - Friday, June 7, 2019

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed legislation Friday that would have tripled the amount state lawmakers receive for each day they work.

Ducey said such a change shouldn’t apply to current lawmakers, but rather should kick in only after the next election.

Lawmakers in both parties backed the proposal, saying rural lawmakers especially are undercompensated for their costs of traveling to and staying in Phoenix during the session. They also noted that changes to federal tax law eliminated many write-offs for expenses.

Ducey seemed to take a dim view of boosting expense payments for lawmakers who live in the Phoenix area.

“Arizona is the sixth largest state in terms of land area,” Ducey wrote in a letter explaining his veto. “So for rural legislators and those representing areas outside 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.”

He said he’s “open to working with legislators on such a change next session.”

The Legislature introduced the proposal in the final days of the session that ended last week and pushed back against accusations that they moved outside of normal procedure to do so.

Lawmakers earn $24,000 a year, plus a daily stipend of $60 for rural lawmakers and $35 for Maricopa County residents. The measure would raise the amount for expenses to $185 a day and half that for Phoenix-area residents. The House vote approving the increase was 37-23 and the Senate vote 22-7.

That expense rate hasn’t been changed for three decades, and salaries have not increased since 1999. Lawmakers set their own per diem rates, while voters set salaries and have rejected six efforts to boost salaries since they last approved an increase in 1998. Arizona lawmakers earn among the lowest salaries and expenses of all 50 states, according to a survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“It’s the right thing to do. It’s long overdue, it needs to be done, it’s a fairness issue, and everybody knows it,” Republican Rep. Noel Campbell said as lawmakers debated the legislation. “It’s not a salary increase. This is a reimbursement for actual expenses that we spend down here.”

Campbell declined to comment Friday, saying he’s working with other lawmakers supporting the increase to craft a joint statement.

Several teachers testified during a last-minute committee hearing on the bill, noting that they understand getting underpaid for their work. Arizona teachers went on strike last year for higher pay and better school funding and won a raise. Schools, however, remain underfunded by many measures.

Democratic Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, from Cameron on the Navajo Nation, said last month that as a working mother she struggles with expenses needed to get to and stay in Phoenix and to travel her wide-ranging district to meet with constituents. She also is concerned potential lawmakers shy away from public service because of the costs, leaving running for elected office to the rich.

“There’s a lot of young people, a lot of folks in rural and tribal areas … they’re willing and able to serve as elected leaders,” Peshlakai said. “But because it doesn’t provide for anybody to pay for gas, pay for food, pay for lodging, it keeps each office in the hands of the independently wealthy.”

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