Top 10 Perks of Being an Arizona Lawmaker
By Matthew Hendley
Being a lawmaker in Arizona isn't all about being a poor, humble servant of the people.
Actually, many times, it seems like the exact opposite. Aside from earning the title of being the "meth-lab of democracy," there are some perks to being a lawmaker in Arizona. Check out our top-10 picks:
Legislators love to complain about how much they get paid, with an annual salary of $24,000. It's not that bad when you consider that the Legislature's usually in session for less than half a year.
But wait, there's more! Legislators also get per diem pay -- a $35-per-day allowance for those who live in Maricopa County, and $60 per day for those who live elsewhere. After the first 120 days of the session, that daily goes down to $10 for those in Maricopa County, and $20 for those outside the county. Based on legislative sessions in the last few years, that means an extra $4,500-$8,200.
And lawmakers get reimbursed for mileage. Republican Senator Don Shooter -- who does live in the Yuma area -- dinged the taxpayers for more than $8,000 in mileage last year.
Continuing the explanation of why that $24,000 a year ain't so bad at all, lawmakers can get fed for free in a variety of ways. Of course, there are nice dinners that can be provided by lobbyists, but also consider free meals out of conferences, fundraisers, nonprofit or corporate dinners, and other events.
Why on earth would Arizona lawmakers need to go on a trip to the other side of the world? Um, because it's free. Representative John Kavanagh got to go to China a couple of years ago, and a several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle recently went to Azerbaijan of all places. If a regular citizen on a $24,000 salary wanted to go to China, they'd probably be saving until they're dead.
Ah, the versatility of campaign funds. They can be spent on campaign mailers, or also food -- or even a criminal-defense attorney in case you happen to be charged with assault, as the Arizona Republic recently discovered of Senator Don Shooter's campaign-fund use. (According to the story, he also reimbursed himself more $18,000 in campaign funds for travel . . . in a non-election year.)
Funny, the guys (and gals) who made the laws on state pensions gave lawmakers a better deal than the rest of the state employees. Lawmakers only have to put in 20 years, compared to other state employees, who put in at least 35. Since the pension payout is based on the person's highest-paying years, the ideal plan for a legislator is to spend 16 years as a lawmaker, then move on to something like Justice of the Peace for the last four years, which pays more than $100,000 in Maricopa County. A pension payout would then be a large portion of that $100,000, instead of the measly legislator salary.
This has always been the archetypal legislative perk in Arizona, especially in the wake of the Fiesta Bowl scandal. Just add it to the list of things lawmakers aren't paying for.
Yeah, obviously legislators get the best parking spots at the capitol. But that wasn't good enough for former lawmaker and current Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers. See, Weiers liked to park his motorcycle on a public walkway. Gigantic planters were installed at the capitol to prevent people from driving where they weren't supposed to, including the place where Weiers liked to park his motorcycle. Weiers brought his truck down, attached a chain to one of the planters, and moved it right out of the way, so he could park it wherever he damn pleased.
Legislators don't actually have immunity from arrest unless that arrest is coming about for something they did in the course of their duties as a legislator. Strangely enough, some legislators have been able to escape arrest due to this misunderstanding. Back when Republican lawmaker Scott Bundgaard got into a roadside scuffle with his then-girlfriend, only the girlfriend was jailed. Media outlets including the New York Times later reported that Bundgaard had "invoked legislative immunity" and was let go.
Even Governor Jan Brewer apparently benefited from this misunderstanding. After having a few drinks and crashing into another car when she was a state senator back in the '80s, Arizona Department of Public Safety officers wrote in their reports that Brewer failed several sobriety tests. Although Brewer didn't claim immunity, the officers believed she had legislative immunity and drove her home.
It kind of seems like Ethics 101 that a lawmaker shouldn't be able to directly benefit with legislation he sponsors. Nope. As reported by the Arizona Republic a couple years ago:
[Senator Steve] Yarbrough is the primary sponsor of the many revisions over the years to the state's tuition tax-credit law, which directs dollar-for-dollar tax credits to private-school tuition payments. In 2010, the middle-man organizations created to manage the flow of money from taxpayer to student -- groups known as school- tuition organizations, or STOs -- collected $43 million.
Yarbrough also runs the second-largest STO in Arizona, the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization. And, by the law Yarbrough sponsored, his non-profit is allowed to take 10 percent of its tax-credit revenue for administration costs. There is no dollar-amount ceiling.
Via a bill sponsored, naturally, by Yarbrough, the Legislature this year has doubled the amount that individual taxpayers can direct toward tuition scholarships. Thus, Yarborough's potential source of income doubles once again
CBS 5 looked into the issue again recently, and found, yep, Yarbrough's still doing that.
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