Exceeding the last day of the Legislature comes at cost

Read more of this story here from Arizona Sonora News Service by Erik Kolsrud/Arizona Sonora News.

Erik Kolsrud/Arizona Sonora News

PHOENIX — April 17th is the 100th day of the Arizona State Legislature, the milestone that marks what should be the end of the legislative session. The operative word is “should,” because with bills left for consideration, the Legislature isn’t going anywhere quite yet.

Running past sine die — the Latin term for the time of adjournment — isn’t anything new for the Legislature, it’s common practice. Things come up, bills take longer to debate and controversies must be dealt with. This year was no different, with Gov. Doug Ducey’s Special Legislative Session to pass his opioid act and the expulsion of former Rep. Don Shooter took up a portion of precious legislative time.

Each day the Legislature remains open means another day of full security, janitors, office managers, legislative assistants, clerks and pages. They all get a paycheck and it adds up. However, many of them are on staff year round — for the Legislative Council, work doesn’t end when the legislators do. According to Executive Director Michael Braun, sine die just means its time to switch gears.

“We’re here year round, full time, with a variety of responsibilities,” Braun said. “We just change hats.”

The legislators themselves, however, aren’t so versatile.

Their salaries are set by statute — each legislator earns $23,000 a year as well as $35 per day for the first 120 days of the session, and then $10 per day if there’s any time after that. Legislators living outside of Maricopa County earn an extra $25 per day for the first 100, then an additional $10 per day after that.

Time for some math: Arizona has 60 representatives, 28 of which have districts that exist solely outside of Maricopa County. All 60 earn their $35 per day, and those 28 earn an additional $25 per day. For 100 days of the Legislature, that comes out to $280,000 in per diem salaries. The Senate is made up of 30 senators, with 11 outside Maricopa County. Earning the same rate puts that chamber at $132,000.

Salaries being what they are, the legislators can run the session an extra 20 days to pick up an additional $56,000 for the House and $26,500 for the Senate. Beyond that, taxpayers are on the hook for $880 and $410 per day for the House and Senate, respectively.

A 120-day session would cost nearly half a million dollars in per diem salaries alone,  a drop in the Arizona bucket — the Fiscal Year 2019 General Fund is estimated to be $9.95 billion, according to documents from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

However, that’s not to say the Legislature has free reign when it comes to extending the session beyond 100 days. According to Rule 2 of the Rules of the Arizona House of Representatives, there are a few brakes on that late-running train:

“Except as provided herein, regular sessions shall be adjourned sine die no later than Saturday of the week in which the one hundredth day from the beginning of each regular session falls. The Speaker may by declaration authorize the extension of the session for a period not to exceed seven additional days. Thereafter the session can be extended only by a majority vote of the House.”

The Senate has a near-identical end-of-session calendar in Rule 27 of the Senate Rules:

“Except as provided herein, regular sessions shall be adjourned sine die no later than Saturday of the week in which the one hundredth day from the beginning of each regular session falls. The President may by declaration authorize the extension of the session for a period of not to exceed seven additional days. Thereafter the session can be extended only by the Senate by a majority vote of the members present.”

Which means that for the Arizona State Legislature to run at least one more week, both Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler) and Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) would have to declare it so. Beyond that, the legislators themselves would have to vote on an extension.

And vote they will have to, as Gov. Doug Ducey’s pledge to increase teacher salaries by 20 percent by the year 2020 will mean last-minute legislation for the House and Senate. This further complicates the closed-door negotiations over next year’s budget, almost guaranteeing a longer session.

“It’s not every day that something of this magnitude that’s a budgetary item gets put on the table in April,” Mesnard said. “So we’ll move as quickly as we can.”

Last year the Legislative Session ran past sine die by 22 days. Since 2010, the Arizona State Legislature has only met the sine die deadline three times — in 2011, 2014, and 2015. It’s clear that hitting the deadline is the exception, rather than the rule — and 2018 will be no different.

Whether the Legislature ends next week, next month or in September is up in the air — Mesnard was evasive when asked.

“Yes,” Mesnard said, declining to comment further.

Erik Kolsrud is the Don Bolles Fellow covering the Legislature for Arizona Sonora News, a service provided by the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach him at ekolsrud@email.arizona.edu.