Proposal to give lawmakers more money for expenses advances

May 28, 2019
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Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada and Republican Sen. Vince Leach talk during a break in budget votes at the Arizona state Capitol in Phoenix on Monday, May 27, 2019. The Legislature on Memorial Day broke an impasse that had prevented passage of a state budget for weeks. (AP Photo/Jonathan J. Cooper)

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Memorial Day in an effort to finish their yearly work. A final deal on the state budget appeared in place , while votes were still expected on a variety of other legislation.

The House and Senate backed a proposal that would triple the amount lawmakers get for expenses each day, sending the legislation to Gov. Doug Ducey.

Lawmakers in both parties back the proposal, saying rural lawmakers especially are undercompensated for their costs of traveling to and staying in Phoenix during the session. They also note that changes to federal tax law eliminated many write-offs for expenses.

“It’s the right thing to do. It’s long overdue, it needs to be done, it’s a fairness issue, and everybody knows it,” Republican Rep. Noel Campbell said. “It’s not a salary increase. This is a reimbursement for actual expenses that we spend down here.”

Lawmakers earn $24,000 a year, plus a daily stipend of $60 for rural lawmakers and $35 for Maricopa County residents. The measure would raise the amount for expenses to $185 a day and half that for Phoenix-area residents.

Several teachers testified during the short Appropriations Committee hearing, noting that they understand getting underpaid for their work. Arizona teachers went on strike last year for higher pay and better school funding and won a raise. Schools, however, remain underfunded by many measures.

“I can’t get beyond the irony of your plight, and how it is so incredibly parallel with what is going on with teachers,” educator Christine Marsh said. “At what point would you have a legislator shortage and what would you do?”

Arizona teacher salaries are among the lowest in the nation and educators say it’s one of the reasons there are so few teachers in the state.

The Senate rejected a $2.5 million program to promote childbirth over abortion in a rare defeat for the influential social conservative group Center for Arizona Policy.

Republican Sens. Kate Brophy McGee and Heather Carter joined all Democrats in opposition, citing the earlier rejection of state money for the 211 hotline that refers callers to a wide range of public services. Anti-abortion lawmakers have rejected that funding because a handful of callers sought referrals to abortion providers.

Center for Arizona Policy director Cathi Herrod has said she hoped Arizona could create a program similar to one in Texas that she says successfully reduced abortions.

Democrats say the legislation was a backdoor way to fund “crisis pregnancy centers” that discourage women from having an abortion.

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