Arizona Senate gives initial OK to boosting its expense pay – Beaumont Enterprise

Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Senate late Wednesday gave an initial OK to boosting the daily expense pay that lawmakers who live outside of Maricopa receive during the legislative session.

The Senate in a voice vote agreed to raise the per diem rate for rural lawmakers to the one federal employees receive when they travel to Phoenix for business.

The proposal by Republican Sen. David Gowan of Sierra Vista originally also gave lawmakers in Maricopa County an increase in daily expense pay, but it was amended Wednesday to leave that at $35 a day.

Under HB2053, rural lawmakers would get $56 a day for food and $151 for lodging during the first 120 days of the legislative session. The rate would be cut in half after 120 session days. Rural lawmakers currently get a flat $60 a day for expenses and that hasn’t changed since 1984.

The pay and rates would be automatically adjusted each year when the U.S. General Services Administration sets them for federal workers. .The rates for Maricopa County lawmakers would drop after 120 days in session to $10 a day, as it is currently,

Lawmakers earn $24,000 a year in salary, which can only be modified by voters, who have repeatedly rejected increases over the years. Therefore, the per diem becomes a significant contributor to their income during session.

The measure now needs a formal Senate vote before heading to the House for action.

Rural lawmakers from both parties support the increase, saying that serving in the Legislature often costs them more than they take home in pay and prevents average residents from running for office.

“This is not a salary increase,” said Sen. Lisa Otondo, a Democrat who lives in Yuma and represents a sprawling district that stretches from the Southwest Valley to the Mexican border. “This is a per diem increase so that candidates from either party can have access and run for this office and not lose money.”

Gowan also lobbied the public for support of his proposal.

“I do have to hold down two households in the meantime while I’m here during the five to six month period of time,” Gowan said. “The issue here is about being able to do the travel, being able to pay for the living expenses that incurs while we’re here.”

Lawmakers approved a per diem hike in 2019, but it was vetoed by Gov. Doug Ducey.