PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona lawmakers are poised to consider tripling the amount of cash they are paid for each day they work in new legislation that emerged as their yearly session nears a close.
Lawmakers in both parties appeared supportive of the change, which was introduced in the Senate on Thursday and approved by the appropriations committee. They said rural lawmakers especially are under-compensated for their costs of traveling to and staying in Phoenix during the session. They also note that federal tax law changes eliminated the ability to write off those expenses.
“Our rural legislators have been particularly hit hard,” said Sen. Rick Gray, a Republican from Sun City. “For me, we need to address that for their sake.”
Lawmakers earn $24,000 a year, plus a daily expense stipend that currently is $60 for rural lawmakers and $35 for Maricopa County residents. The rate is greatly cut if the session exceeds 120 days.
The Senate bill introduced Thursday raises the daily rate for rural lawmakers to the federal rate of $185 a day and half that for Phoenix-area residents. The rate would adjust yearly.
Raising lawmaker salaries requires voter approval, which has been repeatedly rejected over the years. But raising the per-day expense reimbursement rate can be done with a majority vote in the Legislature and approval from the governor.
Democratic Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, from Cameron on the Navajo Nation, said 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.”
Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers said GOP members pushing the proposal in his chamber have done a lot of work to pave the way for the increase. But with budget debate planned for Thursday and votes expected Friday before a possible weekend adjournment, he questioned if the bill can make it to the governor’s desk this year.
“Leadership council in the House has said gang, it pretty hard to put this all together at the same time with a straight face,” Bowers said. “And I would just as soon not have this before us right now.”
This story has been corrected to show Democratic Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai’s residence is in Cameron, not Window Rock.
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