Ducey allows lawmakers to boost expense pay

Members of the Arizona Legislature who live outside of the metro Phoenix area will be getting a big increase in their daily expense pay under legislation Republican Gov. Doug Ducey allowed to become law on July 12. It was the first time in seven years a bill became law without his signature.

The governor also signed 10 mainly routine bills into law, acting on the remaining measures from this year’s legislative session.

Ducey’s decision on lawmaker expenses came two years after he vetoed similar legislation that would have boosted the expense pay of all 90 lawmakers. He said such an increase shouldn’t benefit Phoenix-area legislators who don’t have to maintain a second home, nor should it take effect without an election in between.

The governor’s spokesman, C.J. Karamargin, said the new law isn’t perfect but far more limited than the 2019 version. He did not immediately explain why Ducey took the highly unusual step of allowing the bill to become law without signing it, which the state Constitution allows.

Lawmakers earn $24,000 a year. Those who live in Maricopa County get $35 a day in expense pay for the first 120 days of the session or while doing actual legislative work outside of session. Lawmakers from other parts of the state get $60 a day. The expense pay drops significantly after 120 days.

Under the bill Ducey allowed to become law without his signature Monday, rural lawmakers will get the federal winter per diem rate for Phoenix during session, which is $207 a day — $151 a day for lodging and $56 for meals.

Proponents of the legislation called it long overdue, noting that there had not been a change in the rate lawmakers receive for expenses since 1984.

When the Senate debated the increase in May, Republican Sen. David Gowan of Sierra Vista noted he has to maintain a residence in Phoenix during the months-long legislative session.

"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," said Gowan, who sponsored the measure.

Democrats also backed the change, with Rep. Lisa Otondo of Yuma saying that forcing lawmakers to absorb the cost of serving means only the well-off can afford to seek election to the Legislature.

"This is a per diem increase so that candidates from either party can have access and run for this office and not lose money," she said.

The bill initially also gave lawmakers in Maricopa County an increase in daily expense pay, but it was amended Wednesday to remain at $35 a day.

The bill drew wide bipartisan support but did not get formal votes until the final days of the legislative session that ended on June 30. Several critics who voted against the raise said the Legislature shouldn’t be rushing through such a change on the last day of the session.

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, while rural lawmakers would see their new $207 daily rate cut in half.

Among the legislation the governor did sign was a measure that sets new testing standards for medical marijuana and one requiring the state Board of Education to require that health education classes in K-12 schools include mental health education. Both were sponsored by Democrats.

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