Arizona Rep. Kelly Townsend, a Phoenix-
area Republican, recently posted a poll on Facebook asking if legislators in the state of Arizona deserve a raise. She stated that Arizona legislators receive $24,000 a year plus per diem. The overwhelming answer to the poll was “no.”
The Arizona Legislature is in session for roughly five months out of the year. This means the state representatives are making $24,000 for five months of work. Dividing this by five months and taking away one third of that for taxes and more, that is $3,216 per month. This, of course, excludes the per diem that legislators receive.
Some state representatives claim that this is not enough to live on. It has been said that the people voting against a pay increase do not understand what it takes to work in the Legislature: Lawmakers work far more than 9-to-5 four days a week, five months of the year. This isn’t really a part-time job. What are they supposed to do the other seven months of the year?
One of the Facebook comments that caught my eye was a gentleman who asked the people who answered “no” if they could survive on $32,000 a year, which is what Rep. Townsend claims to make with per diem.
As a teacher, the comment shocked me.
I signed my first teaching contract in 2012. It was for approximately $28,000. After moving to a better-paying school district, I signed the contract for my fourth year of teaching at approximately $32,000.
For the 2015-2015 school year, I was going to be making $32,000. I was ecstatic at the raise. I lived for my first five years of teaching around $32,000 per year. Many teachers have spent far longer making less.
In fact, many professions across the state of Arizona make less than $32,000 per year. This includes not only people who work to educate children, but people who work to keep others healthy, and those who help in emergencies.
I would like to address some of the claims used in defense of increasing lawmakers’ pay by using lines similar to those used against raising teacher salaries.
“They don’t work for a full year, why do they expect a full year’s pay?” Many schools have let out for the summer. My frazzled colleagues are ready for a little bit of well-deserved rest and relaxation. Don’t let this fool you into thinking all teachers take the summer off. Many will take courses aimed at making their teaching better. Some will teach summer school. Others will spend their summer developing curriculum so students have a better chance of success. Similarly, our legislators are asked to do many things outside of the five months they are in session. While some may only work 9-5 four days a week, others work tirelessly year- round to make Arizona a better place. “They knew the pay when they signed up for the job.” This is true. Teachers knew the pay of their contract the same way that state representatives knew the pay. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t fight or ask to keep pay on the same competitive track as other professions. “Better pay will attract more qualified individuals.” Teachers have been saying this for a long time. Not only will better pay attract more qualified individuals, it will retain those who can make more in other industries.
I believe that serving in the state Legislature and teaching should both be professions that are done by those who are passionate. Without the drive to better for others, neither profession would succeed. Before judging the people in those professions, take time to walk a day in their shoes.