Voters to decide pay raises for lawmakers

2014-06-26T00:00:00Z Voters to decide pay raises for lawmakersBy Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX — Think about the last time you got a 46 percent pay raise.

Because soon a group of people who work for you will be asking you for exactly that.

Come November, a proposed raise from $24,000 a year to $35,000 for Arizona’s 90 state senators and representatives will appear on the general election ballot.

The Commission on Salaries for Elective State Officers voted 3-2 Wednesday to recommend an $11,000-a-year raise for lawmakers. Proponents said, at the very least, that keeps the salaries in line with inflation since the last pay hike was approved in 1998.

But the Arizona Constitution gives the last word on legislative salaries to voters. And the panel’s recommendations get rejected far more than they are approved, including all five times they appeared on the ballot since 1998.

Dennis Mitchem, who has been a commission member for years, said he thinks this year can be different, considering if legislative pay had just kept pace with inflation since 1998 lawmakers would be getting $34,700, a figure he rounded up to $35,000 to come up with the recommendation.

“Legislators shouldn’t have to take a cut every year in the take-home value of what they’re being paid,” Mitchem said.

Joe Kanefield, another member of the panel, said that figure is justified.

“No one is getting rich serving as a legislator here in Arizona,” he said.

“The people that do serve make great sacrifice, both personally, professionally and financially to serve here,” Kanefield continued. “So what they are paid at $24,000 a year just barely covers some of the incidental costs that they have to incur.”

Kanefield acknowledged that prior efforts to increase the salary to $36,000 and, when that failed, to $30,000, all faltered. But he said the economy has “greatly improved” since then.

But Karen Johnson, a former state lawmaker who also serves on the commission, said any economic upswing has been limited to the major metro areas, and noted most other Arizonans have not gotten pay hikes recently.

Brian Kaufman also voted against the $35,000 recommendation as indefensible, saying he would have gone along with something smaller, perhaps in the $28,000 to $30,000 range for what is supposed to be a part-time job.

That left Lisa Atkins, who chairs the panel, to cast the deciding vote in favor of putting the $35,000 recommendation on the ballot.

“I do think the voters should have an opportunity to decide this issue,” she said.

Mitchem said one thing working against voter approval is public distrust.

“In recent times, I have gotten comments that I didn’t used to get: ‘What they’re doing, they’ll make it up in the graft,’ ” he said.

“I don’t for a minute, believe that’s true,” Mitchem continued.

But it probably didn’t help when Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, told a TV reporter earlier this year that he feels entitled to take free tickets to football games because his legislative pay is so low.

“Give us a raise, we’ll buy our own tickets,” he said.

And legislation this year to stop lawmakers from accepting free tickets from lobbyists to everything from sporting events to concerts never even made it out of the Senate.

Lawmakers also get an allowance while the legislature is in session: $35 a day for Maricopa County residents and $60 a day for everyone else. That includes Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the session even though there are no meetings.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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