Extended session will cost legislators

On Tuesday, their per diem pay will be cut under 120-day law
2013-05-13T00:00:00Z Extended session will cost legislatorsHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX - They aren't close to going home.

But at least it's going to cost taxpayers a little less to keep their lawmakers in session.

Starting Tuesday, lawmakers who live in Maricopa County will see their "per diem" allowance cut to just $10 a day - down from the $35 daily - including weekends - they've been getting since Jan. 14.

Legislators from the other 14 counties will see their daily allowance cut from $65 a day to just $20, as a result of failing to get their work done within the first 120 days of the session.

Legislative rules say the annual session is supposed to adjourn by Saturday of the week of the 100th day.

That, however, is not law and not enforceable.

What is law, designed to spur lawmakers to be gone by now, is the slashing of their per diem.

The cut is not going unnoticed by those who have to find housing in the Phoenix area.

Freshman Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said he understood coming to the Legislature, at a salary of $24,000 a year plus per diem, was not going to leave a lot of money in his pocket. Even on full per diem, Borrelli said he considers himself lucky if he can cover his expenses without taking money out of his own pocket. And now?

"I was in the Marines for 20 years, so I'm used to working with nothing," Borrelli said. "I can live on Pringles and Top Ramen and popcorn and water," he quipped.

Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, who had previously served in the state House, said she was aware of that 121st-day reduction.

But Griffin said the long session just could not be helped this year.

Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, has also been through it before.

"It's all Medicaid," he said, referring to the bid by Gov. Jan Brewer to get lawmakers to tap into funds from the Affordable Care Act to expand the state's health-care program.

Lining up the votes for that in the Republican-controlled Legislature has proved difficult for the governor.

But if the political gamesmanship over that issue goes on for too long, Wheeler said it could put him in an even tighter bind because he has a lease on an apartment through June 9, figuring even in a worst-case scenario, that would be plenty of time.

Wheeler said he cannot extend on a month-to-month basis, so if the session runs past that date, having just $20 a day may force him to drive home every night.

House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, who also will feel the $45-a-day cut, said it's not like lawmakers have been wasting time. He said the governor's Medicaid plan, coupled with her call to revamp how sales taxes are collected, have proved particularly difficult to resolve.

"If we didn't have the Medicaid issue, the budget would have been done a month ago," Tobin said, and lawmakers would have been long gone by now.

On StarNet: To read more about local and state government and political news go to azstarnet.com/politics

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