Arizona Senate seeks to boost ‘abysmally low’ staff salaries

Julia Shumway//July 12, 2019

Arizona Senate seeks to boost ‘abysmally low’ staff salaries

Julia Shumway//July 12, 2019

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Through 10 years and six different Senate presidents, longtime Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo has managed logistics, provided policy advice and wrangled nearly 100 employees and 30 senators.

For that job, she earns nearly $20,000 less than her counterpart in the House, who’s been chief of staff in the lower chamber for fewer than three years.

The pay disparity between Baldo and House Majority Chief of Staff Michael Hunter is just one of numerous examples in which House employees earn more than their Senate counterparts. And it’s something Senate President Karen Fann wants to fix, using at least part of the $3.2 million additional funding the Senate gave itself this year to give employees targeted raises and create more equity.


Fann didn’t return a call or text message for this story, but she said during a May interview that she wanted to make sure employees were adequately compensated to ensure they weren’t going to leave for other government agencies.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

“The House is actually offering our employees money to go over there,” Fann said.

An Arizona Capitol Times review of salary data provided by both chambers in response to a public records request illustrates that House staffers earn more than their counterparts in the Senate, with few exceptions. The chiefs of staff in both chambers are one of the more extreme examples: Baldo is the Senate’s highest-paid employee at $146,373 per year, while Hunter makes $164,383.

“I was more concerned about my employees getting the few raises that we were able to provide than being competitive with the chief of staff at the House,” Baldo said. “Would I like to make that much money? Yes, but I advocate for my staff first.”

In many cases, job responsibilities and titles don’t line up directly between chambers. But where they do, House employees tend to make more, even if their Senate counterparts have more experience.

Senate Democratic Chief of Staff Jeffrey Winkler, who’s been on the job since 2014, earns $117,645, while House Democratic Chief of Staff Cynthia Aragon, who started in the role in 2016, makes $133,951.

House Chief Clerk Jim Drake and Secretary of the Senate Susan Aceves started their current jobs around the same time. But Drake, a former assistant secretary of state with a law degree, takes home more than twice what Aceves, who worked her way up in the Senate secretary’s office, does.

Caucus spokesmen in the Senate have been in their roles longer than those in the House. However, the four are within a closer range than other positions. Senate GOP spokesman Mike Philipsen is the highest-paid of the four at $106,876, while Senate Democrats spokesman Aaron Latham makes the least at $97,185. House GOP spokesman Matt Specht earns $100,000 and House Democrats spokesman Robbie Sherwood makes $102,000.

Baldo said she’s most concerned about the “abysmally low” salaries the Senate pays some of its employees, including member assistants. The newest assistants in the Senate earn $30,000, while their counterparts in the House make $31,200.

“We’re trying to go through the salaries for our employees and rectify some of those inequalities,” she said. “I know the House just increased their salaries across the board by 3 percent, so we’ve got some work to do.”


Kevin DeMenna
Kevin DeMenna

Looking at older employee data also highlights the employee churn the Senate has experienced, a churn Fann attributes, at least in part, to the House and other government agencies poaching employees by offering higher salaries.

Senate Assistant General Counsel Jeffrey Kros, for instance, left for a higher-paying position as the House’s senior attorney in November. He’s since left state government for a lobbying job.

Several former members of the Senate research staff are now working in new roles in the House, state agencies or congressional offices. The current legislative liaisons for the Arizona Department of Revenue and the Treasurer’s Office, deputy director of the Board of Education, a House policy adviser and U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko’s chief of staff all worked together in the Senate’s nonpartisan research office a few years ago.

Some of those moves are to be expected, said Kevin DeMenna, a longtime lobbyist and former Senate staffer. Research staff, who he described as the “galley slaves” of the Legislature, move on to work for other parts of government or in government-adjacent jobs like lobbying.

“Most of these folks don’t leave the process,” he said. “They get different business cards.”

But he said the current economy makes it harder to attract and keep good employees. Only a handful of Senate employees have been there longer than a decade, DeMenna said. That, combined with term limits on lawmakers, means institutional knowledge more often is held by lobbyists than public servants.

“The feeder pool has become much different, particularly in this labor market,” DeMenna said. “Supply and demand are out of whack in every labor market, so attracting the best and the brightest is a price issue right now.”