Arizona voters overwhelmingly shoot down pay raise for lawmakers

Cronkite News Service:
Kelly McGrath
Published On:
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
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Arizona voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly defeated a ballot proposition that would have given state lawmakers their first pay raise since 1998.

Proposition 300, which carried a recommendation that lawmaker pay be increased from $24,000 to $30,000, was losing by a two-to-one margin.

State Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, said she wasn’t surprised to see the proposition failing.

“I am usually for it, but this year I believe it would be irresponsible for me to ask for a raise during the largest crisis we have ever seen,” Sinema said.

Bruce Merrill, a retired Arizona State University professor who directs the Cronkite/Eight poll, said the economy wasn’t the only factor behind the outcome.

“It’s on the ballot every single election, and it hasn’t passed in years and years,” Merrill said.

Merrill said he was sympathetic to lawmakers, however, because serving in the Legislature is a demanding job that pays little.

Tom Jenney, Arizona director for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group advocating for taxpayer rights, said the position should pay little.

“The job is not supposed to be a full-time position,” Jenney said. “We don’t wish to encourage individuals to become career politicians, and don’t want to encourage state legislatures to stay in session longer than they do.”

Since 1998, voters had defeated four other attempts to increase lawmakers’ pay.

Proposition 300 didn’t attract a great deal of attention either way. While some lawmaker’s supported the raise, others said the timing wasn’t right because of the state’s budget deficit.

While not opposing the raise in principle, the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers raised concerns that paying lawmakers more could lead to a full-time Legislature.

Supporters of the proposition acknowledged that it was easy to reject the raise as a protest or out of concern for the state budget. But they said lawmaker’s pay costs Arizonans because many people who could serve well can’t make the financial sacrifice.

The Legislature began as a two-month exercise involving ranchers, farmers and other ordinary citizens, but now sessions can run as long as six months and require lawmakers to put in more than 60 hours a week. Supporters of a raise said that makes it difficult for people with full-time jobs and families to take on the role.

Supporters also said low pay and the demands of the job can invite lawmakers to consult for or work for organizations with an interest in legislative action.