Under Arizona’s constitution, any increase in the salary of state lawmakers must be approved by voters. In the past 50 years, legislators and the AZ Commission on Salaries have sent a pay raise to the ballot 18 times. All but two of them have been shot down by the voters. The most recent referral, in 2014, to raise legislative salaries to $35,000 was rejected 68%-32%.
A last minute bill which could give voters the chance to significantly increase the pay for Arizona’s 90 lawmakers and double the length of terms for state senators is set to be heard Monday.
The Arizona Legislature is in session at least 100 days each year starting in early January. Under current law, voters have the final say in setting the annual salary for the state’s 30 senators and 60 representatives.
That rate is $24,000 a year which has not changed for nearly 25 years.
However, Sen. David Gowan and Rep. Regina Cobb are supporting legislation under Senate Bill 1180 which would ask voters in November to set legislators’ pay at 60 percent of the governor’s salary. The governor’s annual pay is currently $95,000, meaning lawmakers would be paid $57,000 a year starting in January 2023.
But it is not only pay that would double for a state senator like Gowan, who represents all of Cochise and Greenlee counties, as well as southern Graham County and a portion of Pima County.
SB1180 includes language asking voters to change the length of Senate terms from two years to four years. And although state representatives would still serve two-year terms, all lawmakers would be allowed to serve up to 12 years in each chamber, for a total of 24 years if a lawmakers runs between the two chambers.
The current limit is eight years in each chamber, or 16 years total as a lawmaker.
To get the bill heard at this point in the session, Cobb has introduced an amendment to strike all the language of Gowan’s current SB1180, which was a COVID-19 expenditure reporting bill already passed by the Senate. The “strike everything amendment” is 25 pages that if cleared by the Legislature would put the provisions in front of voters in November as Senate Concurrent Resolution 1018.
Among the provisions is an overhaul the reporting system for lobbyists who make campaign contributions or expenditure on behalf of a state lawmaker.
According to SB1180, the current quarterly reporting of such expenditures would be replaced with a new mandate that those expenditures be reported within five business days. It also significantly increases the type of gifts to a state officer or employee or a member of the officer’s or employee’s householdwhich would have to be publicly reported.
Currently there is a long list of exemptions to the gift rule, allowing some public officials and employees or their families to accept travel, lodging, and speaking engagement fees without the “gift” ever being reported to the public.
The new transparency rules related to lobbyist activity would also require a new web-based digital platform application to allow for real-time entry of information and public accessibility. SB1180 would allocate $10 million to the Arizona Secretary of State to cover that cost.
On Monday, Cobb’s House Appropriations Committee will hear SB1180’s strike everything amendment. If it passes, the new version of the bill would go back to the Senate for approval because the language varies from what the Senate passed last month.
Gowan has been a strong advocate for ensuring more Arizonans can afford to run for the Legislature, particularly those who live hours away from Phoenix.
In the 2021 legislative session, he spearheaded a bill to change the per diem rates for lawmakers from outside Maricopa County. Those rates -which had equaled $60 a day for housing and food since 1984- were raised to $207 a day for the first 120 days of session.
Future rates will be adjusted based on the federal winter per diem rates set annually by the U.S. General Services Administration. Per diems are separate from pay or travel reimbursement.
The per diem bill became law when Ducey utilized a rare procedural maneuver to allow the legislation to take effect without a governor’s signature.