Fri, Jan. 24

Lawmakers take hit on per diem allowance

PHOENIX -- They aren't close to going home.

But at least it's going to get a little less expensive for taxpayers to keep their lawmakers in session.

Beginning Tuesday, lawmakers who live in Maricopa County will find their "per diem' allowance cut to just $10 a day. Through today, they have been getting $35 daily -- including weekends and even days the Legislature is not in session -- since Jan. 14.

And for failing to get their work done within the first 120 days of the session, legislators from the other 14 counties will see their daily allowance cut from $65 a day to just $20.

Legislative rules say the annual session is supposed to adjourn by Saturday of the week of the 100th day.

That, however, is not law and not enforceable.

But what is law -- and designed to spur lawmakers to be gone by now -- is that per diem cut.

That cut is not going unnoticed by those who have to find housing in the Phoenix area.

Freshman Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said he recognized that coming to the Legislature, at a salary of $24,000 a year plus allowance, was not going to leave a lot of money in his pocket. Borrelli said that, even on full per diem, he considers himself lucky if he can cover his expenses without taking money out of his own pocket.

And now?

"I was in the Marines for 20 years, so I'm used to working with nothing,' he said. And Borrelli, who has a one-year lease on his apartment, said there are ways to cut corners on other expenses.

"I can live on Pringles and Top Ramen and popcorn and water,' he quipped.

Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, who had previously served in the state House, said she was aware of that 121st-day reduction.

"We knew it coming in,' she said. "So it was not a surprise.'

And Griffin said that the long session just could not be helped this year.

"We've moving as fast as we can,' she said.

That's also the assessment of Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson.

"It's all Medicaid,' he said, referring to the bid by Gov. Jan Brewer to get lawmakers to tap into funds from the federal Affordable Care Act to expand the state's health care program.

Lining up the votes for that in the Republican-controlled Legislature has proven more difficult than the governor anticipated. And in hopes of spurring some action, Brewer last week said she will veto any legislation sent to her until lawmakers make some progress on resolving the issue.

Bringing the rest of the legislative process to a halt could create problems for Wheeler. He took a lease on an apartment through June 9, figuring that, even in a worst-case scenario, that would be plenty.

But if lawmakers are still around then, Wheeler said he cannot extend on a month-to-month basis. And having just $20 a day may force him to drive home every night.

House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, who also will feel the $45-a-day cut, said it's not like lawmakers have been wasting time. He said the governor's Medicaid plan, coupled with her call to revamp how sales taxes are collected, have proven particularly difficult to resolve.

"If we didn't have the Medicaid issue, the budget would have been done a month ago,' Tobin said, and lawmakers would have been long gone by now.

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