Lawmakers in outlying areas should get higher per diem funds
State lawmakers pushing a measure to increase the amount of per diem money they receive when the Legislature is in session have decided they will have to wait for another session and have dropped the plan.
The decision is likely to be popular with many Arizona voters, who never seem enthusiastic about the idea of providing more compensation to lawmakers. But we think that is the wrong idea when it comes to per diem payments, at least for some lawmakers.
As proposed, the measure would increase daily expense payments for lawmakers during the session to $98 for those living within 50 miles of the State Capitol and to $163 for those living farther away than that. Currently, the per diem payments are $35 and $50.
One key supporter – Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson – said the new numbers “were unacceptably too high” in the view of many lawmakers. It is likely what they really felt was too high was the potential political backlash from constituents.
Actually, we are not all that concerned with the current figure for those living within normal commuting distance, and that is actually a large number of lawmakers who live in the Phoenix area.
But we do think it makes sense to provide higher per diem payments to the relatively small number – including four lawmakers currently living in the Yuma area – who must maintain a second residence while the Legislature is in session and travel long distances to serve the public.
If the focus was on these people rather than all lawmakers, the cost of the measure would be much less.
We hope the measure is brought back for consideration next session, but this time with more attention paid to those who truly need higher expense payments and on those who can commute daily. That should eliminate concerns about the cost of the measure.