Legislative leaders want boost in their mileage ratesPosted: Updated:
Republican and Democratic leaders in the Arizona Legislature say they want an increase in lawmakers' mileage reimbursement rates, saying the current rate is too low.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said lawmakers who travel long distances in their own cars need an increase from the current state rate of 44 cents per mile to the federal rate of 53 cents a mile. He cites low lawmaker pay of $24,000 a year and the costs for rural members who travel to the state Capitol.
"This is very important for rural members of the Legislature who as a matter of course have two or three-hour commutes to get here," Mesnard said. "We don't reimburse for all the work that they do in their district, which is probably a separate conversation that needs to be had."
The increase in House Bill 2227 is co-sponsored by leaders from both parties in the House and Senate. Mesnard came up with the proposal but got all leaders to sign on as co-sponsors.
He isn't seeking an increase for rank-and-file state workers, however, saying that would impact the state budget. He said they have access to state fleet cars and have less need for reimbursement.
"I praise our state employees, they're dedicated, but very few if any of them have two and three-hour commutes to get to work regularly," he said.
The House and Senate would absorb the $65,000 yearly cost from their existing budgets.
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, agreed that rural members are really hurt by the current rate.
"It's really in a lot of cases unaffordable for them to do this job," Hobbs said. "It costs them money for them to stay in Maricopa County for four days out of the week, and the per diem doesn't really cover the costs."
The mileage boost is part of a broader policy change for House members that Mesnard wants - one that would severely restrict the use of state vehicles by lawmakers. Last year, then-speaker David Gowan was criticized for using a state vehicle while traveling to events in the 1st Congressional District, where he was seeking a seat in Congress.
Gowan repaid the state more than $12,000 after reviewing his expense requests following an analysis by the Arizona Capitol Times that raised questions about his use of state fleet cars, apparent mileage reimbursements even while driving a state car and requests for daily per diem pay when he wasn't doing state business. He said he did nothing improper but repaid the money to fix errors discovered in a review.
He then asked Attorney General Mark Brnovich to do an investigation. That probe is ongoing, Brnovich spokeswoman Mia Garcia said.
Mesnard said he has tasked a House panel to come up with a new policy for the use of state cars for him to adopt. He has only approved such uses one time since taking over as speaker early this month, when Majority Leader John Allen and House staffers travelled to Tucson for a meeting.
Mesnard said he could simply put in place his own policy, but expects that proposal to align with his own views on restricting use of state cars to purposes that are clearly reasonable - and rare.
"We're going to have a much stricter policy with regard to use of fleet vehicles," Mesnard said. "And if we're going to go down that road it's only fair to make sure that then we're reimbursing folks at the cost of their actual transportation."
Hobbs said the two issues were distinct, and didn't involve the Senate. Senate spokesman Mike Philipsen said Senators have not used state fleet cars at all in recent years.
"This has nothing to do with the state car policy - it's really just to help our rural members pay for the cost of doing their jobs," Hobbs said. "Nobody's going to get rich off mileage, unless you're Gowan, but that's being addressed."
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