Commentary: Legislators don't deserve pay hike

By Lauren Peckler
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, October 27, 2004

It's imperative that any voter realize what it is that state legislators actually do and how they compare to the rest of the country before deciding that their job is "important," and that they deserve more money.

Proposition 300 entails a 50 percent base salary increase for our state legislators from $24,000 to $36,000. Before your mouth drops at this paltry salary, which happens to be $7,000 below the average state salary, let me tell you what this number actually means.

First of all, $24,000 is only a base salary. It's possible for state legislators to make anywhere from a couple thousand to ten thousand more than the base salary, depending on committee or leadership status.

As well, they receive a $60 a day allowance (except for Maricopa County) for up to 120 days that they are in regular session.

The controversial aspect of their job is they only work half of the year. In theory, it is a part-time job. Their regular session runs from January to June, and the rest of the year they participate in committees and meetings.

Since it's our tax dollars that pay their salaries, it's perfectly reasonable that state legislators make $7,000 under the average for a job that they're only required to work regularly for six months.

In comparison to other state legislatures, Arizona would rank 12th in the nation with the raise in salary.

Higher salaries in states that rank above Arizona, such as Michigan, with approximately $70,000 base salaries, are not always what they seem either. Michigan's legislators have full-time positions.

Or, take New Mexico for example. Their legislators don't receive any salary. The position is voluntary.

That $24,000 doesn't seem so inadequate when you consider amount of work required, and their salary compared to the rest of the country.

Time spent on the job, and how their salaries fare compared to other state's legislators should be enough reason to vote no, yet supporters of Proposition 300 still address the issue of diversity and qualification as the first and foremost reason that we have to give our dear state legislators more money.

Again, take a look at the hard facts. Though some may be retired or have other sources of income, that does not mean that our state legislators are unqualified not diverse.

Tucson is split among districts 25-30. Within these districts, approximately half of the senators are women and half are under the age of 50. There is also one Hispanic senator.

More importantly, the state Senate and the House of Representatives include an amazing bunch of individuals. Among just Tucson's districts, previous or current occupations include teacher, farmer, dean, entrepreneur, social worker, doctor, real estate agent and novelist.

Pessimists out there may still believe that the legislature is not diverse or qualified enough, but I disagree.

Besides, do you think a $36,000 salary will attract a young doctor or lawyer away from their minimum $60,000 salary? If our state legislature needs more qualified candidates, they won't attain that through an extra $12,000.

One solution would be to make the position full-time. Those harping about how other distinguished individuals shy away from the position because of the meager salary would at least be comforted in knowing that legislators could raise families with one working parent.

Even then, Arizonans won't want to pay, say $50,000 to 90 individuals. In the meantime, since Arizonans are either ignorant of the truth or too cheap to pay more than a quarter, it's time to respect and praise state legislators for what they do, while not forgetting the reasons why they aren't rich politicians.

We must remember that taxpayers do pay their salaries, that there are 90 state legislators, Arizona's salary is not unusually low for the rest of the country, and that their jobs are part-time. I'm voting no on Proposition 300 because our state legislators have a job that not only is part-time, but also represents our state. Our state already has budget issues; we don't need to pay individuals extra for only working half the year.

Finally, I respect our state legislators for their list of accomplishments and plethora of unique opinions. Even though they have to battle a half-year's pay with taking on a second job or are supplementing their income with retirement benefits, that doesn't mean the state can afford to pay them more or that they deserve more.

Lauren Peckler is a sophomore majoring in English and sociology. She can be reached at