Inflation is through the roof, gas prices are higher than ever before, out-of-state money was being used to put historic tax cuts on hold, and now lawmakers want a pay raise. Yes, while the Bidenflation tax is cutting deeply into the pockets of hardworking Arizonans and small businesses, lawmakers want their pockets deepened—to the tune of a 137.5% pay increase. That is what is being proposed in SB 1180 and SCR 1018.
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%.
Interestingly enough, lawmakers actually gave themselves a pay raise just last year, sidestepping the constitution and voters in the process. They accomplished this by increasing their per diem pay from $60 per day to over $200 and locked it in to be adjusted annually for inflation. As a result, lawmakers outside of Maricopa County are now eligible to receive over $50,000 in annual compensation, more than double the amount approved by voters.
Under SB 1180, legislative compensation would surge to over $80,000 a year. And this wouldn’t be just a one-time pay raise. Tired of the voters refusing a salary increase at the ballot time and time again, they would rather just have the voters tie their pay to 60% of the Governor’s salary. That way, when the Commission on Salaries (not the voters) decides to increase the Governor’s pay, lawmakers will benefit too.
In their defense of Senate Bill 1180, the measure’s sponsor lamented that lawmakers are working hard to negotiate a multibillion-dollar budget while making as much as minimum wage dishwashers. Some lawmakers believe they are very important people, doing very important work. And surely, they should not have to have their salaries determined by those pesky dishwashers at the ballot ever again.
And if increasing their pay wasn’t enough, the proponents of the bill found time to stick sweeping changes to legislative term limits into the package as well. SB 1180 would have increased the length of time a member may serve in the House or Senate from a total of 8 to 12 years and would have increased the length of a single Senate term from 2 years to 4.
Unlike most other major pieces of legislation, this pay/term limit plan wasn’t introduced at the beginning of the legislative session as a standalone bill with an accompanying ballot referral. No, both were pushed as strike everything amendments to completely unrelated bills, during the last week of committee hearings on a jampacked agenda.
It was obvious that the goal was to ram this through quickly and with as little scrutiny as possible from the public. And thankfully the plan didn’t work. SB 1180 failed 5-8, with five democrats and three republicans voting “No” and five republicans voting “Yes.”
Unfortunately, as one Republican who voted for the bill noted in his vote explanation, bad ideas never truly die at the legislature. With sine die and a budget deal a long way off, there is still plenty of time for a pay raise revival. So, taxpayers will have to be prepared if/when this pay raise package finds its way back—hopefully to help it fail again.
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