Arizona voters to decide if lawmakers merit raise

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX (AP) -- A state commission decided Wednesday to let voters determine in November whether members of the state Legislature will get a pay raise for the first time since 1998.

Members of the elected officials' salaries commission voted 3-2 to recommend a pay boost from the current $24,000 a year to $35,000.

Voters denied raises every two years between 2000 and 2008. In 2010 and 2012 voters weren't asked to OK a pay increase as the state was mired in a recession.

Commission member Joseph Kanefield said the state's part-time lawmakers take a financial hit by winning elected office. The proposed 46 percent raise essentially would return their pay to what it was in 2008 after being adjusted for inflation.

"No one is getting rich serving as a legislator here in Arizona, and that is an absolute fact," Kanefield said. "So the people who do serve make great sacrifices both personally, professionally and financially to serve here. What they are paid, at $24,000 a year, to me just barely covers some of the incidental costs that they have to incur."

He also noted that while technically part-time, by the time a legislator spends four to five months in session, plus special sessions, and does constituent work, the commitment nears full-time.

Board member Karen Johnson, a former state senator, argued against the pay raise.

"I don't know how it is down there in Maricopa County now, but up here in Navajo County it is extremely depressed economically," Johnson said. "People are not getting increases and to see the legislators possibly get one is, I think, would be a little bit of a slap in the face."

Chairwoman Lisa Atkins broke a 2-2 tie with her vote in support, but said she wanted lawmaker daily expense pay examined as well. Lawmakers from Maricopa County get $35 a day when the legislature is in session, while those from other counties get $60 a day.

Atkins said there are differences in time commitments for committee chairmen and leadership, and for lawmakers from far-flung districts.

The commission is likely to meet later this year to consider recommending salary increases for the governor and other elected officials, as well as judges and court clerks.

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