On the last day of the session, the state Legislature voted itself a raise . . . even though legislators can’t vote themselves a raise.
Only the voters can approve an increase on the annual salary for members of the state House and Senate, which currently stands at $24,000 per session, and the voters haven’t OK’d a salary hike for legislators since 1998.
So what the legislators did instead was vote themselves an increase in per diem — money used to reimburse a member for daily travel and meal expenses.
Members from outside Maricopa County go from $60 a day for the first 120 days the Legislature in session to $129 a day for housing and $56 per day for meals. That comes out to $15,480 for housing and $6,720 for meals, for a total of $22,200.
Combine the per diem with the voter-approved salary, and legislators have almost doubled their income.
While we’re not fans of this end-around the voters, we have long believed that legislators are vastly underpaid. And just like purchasing a car or refrigerator with a price too low to be believed, in the end you get what you pay for.
In other words, we won’t get the best and brightest by paying nickels and dimes, and we’ve long advocated for making the Legislature a full-time position and paying legislators a good, livable wage. Perhaps if we did that, they’d be less inclined to support special interests over the good of the people in return for a job waiting them when they leave office.
Or, perhaps, we would get legislators who truly understand what’s it’s like to be supporting a young family, instead of retired millionaires and the wives of very wealthy men looking for something to occupy their time.
Given that voters won’t compensate legislators what they’re worth, and the expenses legislators who come from outside Maricopa County incur by serving — having to pay for two residences, gas and maintenance for a vehicle traveling back and forth from the home district, etc. — increasing the per diem seems as logical a move as can be found under the current circumstances.
What we don’t agree with, however, is the increase in per diem for legislators who live in Maricopa County. They now go from $35 a day to $92.50.
We’re sorry, but if you can sleep in your own bed every night — heck, if you can even keep your day job — while serving, there’s no need to compensate you for your daily commute. And no commute within Maricopa County costs $92.50 per day.
We’d rather voters approve a change to a full-time Legislature and corresponding salaries. However, until then (if ever), we’ll likely see more of these back-door shenanigans from legislators trying not to go broke serving the public.