Arizona’s part-time legislators are on the job in midsummer after their inability to work out an on-time solution to the state’s budget trouble led them to crack a barrier they hoped to avoid.
The annual regular session starts in January and has adjourned in May or June in recent years. This year, it ran 71/2 hours into July 1 before lawmakers approved a new budget and finished action on other bills.
The same day, Gov. Jan Brewer promptly vetoed big parts of the budget and called lawmakers into special session starting July 6 to rework the spending plan to her liking.
Such a special session is rare. The last time the Legislature met in midsummer was in 1997, when lawmakers convened July 31 for two days, chiefly to change the state’s death penalty law to respond to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In 2000, lawmakers who ended their regular session in April came back in June for a 23-day special session on school finance and other topics.
So far this year, the special session has rank-and-file legislators reporting one day a week while their leaders try to negotiate a budget agreement.
There’s a distinct lack of enthusiasm among lawmakers.
“Nobody wants to be here. Nobody does,” said Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson.
Nineteen of 90 lawmakers missed the special session’s first day, which House Speaker Kirk Adams said was understandable.
“We have members far-flung all over the country. We’ve been trying to drag back as many as we possibly can from vacations or working,” said Adams, R-Mesa.
Adams said serving in the Legislature usually is something like a National Guard soldier’s time commitment to state and nation.
“You get called up for six months, and you go back to your regular job and other commitments,” Adams said. “People do not plan on being here in the month of July. They have professional commitments and responsibilities … and the Constitution does not provide for a full-time, year-round legislature.”
Besides their $24,000 annual salary, legislators get daily expense money – $35 for those from Maricopa County and $60 for those from elsewhere in the state – for the first 120 days of the regular session. After that, the rates drop to $10 and $20.
But unlike the regular session and most special sessions, when lawmakers receive the daily expense money every day of the session, a law enacted July 6 means the 30 senators and 60 representatives will be paid that money only for days that the Legislature takes attendance.
“We think it’s important to limit the cost to the state,” said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix.
Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, voted for the bill to limit the expense money but said the extra funds are important for non-Maricopa County legislators who must travel to Phoenix.
“We really are approaching a full-time Legislature, especially with this session,” Heinz said. “The people of Arizona need to understand that you get what you pay for.”