We objected when our own state Sen. David Gowan presented a last-minute “strike everything” bill during the final days of the first session last May.

Gowan successfully convinced fellow lawmakers to send SB 1558 to Gov. Doug Ducey, petitioning his signature to approve per diem increases for rural legislators.

The governor vetoed the bill.

Our objection pointed to the timing of the initiative, not its intent.

Now comes a proposal from a Prescott Republican, Rep. Noel Campbell, to restart the discussion on what Arizona pays its legislators. He’s sponsoring House Bill 2163, which calls for boosting the per diem rate to the equivalent of what federal workers are receiving.

That would be a 143 percent increase for rural lawmakers.

Legislators representing districts outside of Maricopa County are currently paid $60 for every day the Legislature is in session. If the session goes beyond 120 days, as it did last year, the per diem is cut in half.

Arizona pays all of its legislators an annual salary of $24,000, plus the per diem. If the session continues through 120 days, that would add another $7,200. Lawmakers living within Maricopa County receive a per diem of $35 and would be paid $4,200 in addition to their salary if the session goes to 120 days.

Campbell’s bill would boost pay for rural lawmakers to $146 per day. His argument, which is similar to what Gowan said last May, contends that the current per diem rate isn’t enough for rural lawmakers to afford a hotel room when the Legislature is in session.

Our state Rep. Becky Nutt has become the “poster child” of this campaign. Rep. Nutt has lived in an RV during the session, finding affordable accommodations during the peak tourism season in Phoenix. Campbell and other lawmakers have pointed at Rep. Nutt and other lawmakers who are “ … living out of motorhomes, sleeping on the couches of family members or sharing condos,” as examples of what’s wrong with the current per diem rate.

We don’t disagree.

Sen. Gowan’s bill came at the wrong time last year and created the impression that lawmakers were sneaking a last-minute initiative through the Legislature during the chaos of budget negotiations. That was the focus of our opposition.

We supported Gowan’s primary argument that rural lawmakers shouldn’t have to pay out of their own pocket to serve in the Legislature.

Campbell’s bill comes at the right time.

Reprinted from Sierra Vista Herald/Review

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