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Arizona Legislature takes up elected officials' salaries, E-Verify, Arizona Space Commission

Statewide elected officials in Arizona could get pretty big pay raises under a bill set for consideration in an Arizona state Senate committee Tuesday.

Meanwhile, most of the rest of the action at the state Capitol will be on the floors of the House and Senate, as it’s what’s known as "crossover week," when bills cross from one chamber to the other.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services joined The Show for his weekly breakdown of what's happening at the Arizona Capitol.

Full interview

Good morning, Howie.

HOWARD FISCHER: Good morning. And you seem to think that we should expect something from our lawmakers?

Well, I mean, when it comes to pay raises, maybe. I mean, this seems like, for statewide elected officials, they could be getting pretty hefty bumps here.

FISCHER: Well, yeah, maybe I may even run for governor if it really gets approved. Right now, Arizona has among the lower rates among statewide elected officials. I mean, there are a few states that have essentially just honorary salaries, but the governor gets $95,000 a year, which if you are the chief executive officer of an agency with a budget of just state money of like $18 billion. And you're talking about with federal funds, you know, you're talking much more than that. $95,000 is not a lot.

The proposal is to raise that to $220,000. There are similar raises proposed: secretary of state going from $70,000 to $185,000; the treasurer going from $70,000 to $175,000 and the attorney general going from $90,000 up to $200,000. Now, I'm thinking that some of the lawmakers are saying to themselves, you know, if we give the top folks a raise, maybe the people who get control of our salaries will say, maybe you people are worth more. Lawmakers are paid ... $24,000 a year right now. And under the state constitution that can only be approved by voters, and voters have looked the last couple of times this has been on the ballot and said, hey, ... no, on this. That, that maybe we're getting what we paid for, which is supposed to be a part-time Legislature.

But it is an interesting question, because the other thing to remember about Arizona is we are one of the few states in the nation that does not have a gubernatorial mansion or residence. And you know, that hasn't been an issue because most of the governors have come actually from the Phoenix area. They're quite happy in their own homes. The one exception years ago was when Raúl Castro came up from Tucson, he didn't, he actually stayed in the motel for a while till Tom Chauncey, who was the owner of Channel 10 at the time, said I'll buy a house. Raúl Castro stayed there. When Raúl Castro left, it went back to the state and it was eventually sold off.

So Howie, in addition to pay raises, border security and immigration are once again going to be at the fore at the Capitol, including a bill from the state House speaker dealing with E-Verify, which is something that we've been talking about for many, many years here in Arizona.

FISCHER: Oh, this goes back even before or house, the old Senate Bill 1070. The federal government has set up this E-Verify system, which I'm hoping they've worked the bugs out of, the idea is if you're an employer, you can go in and you put in the person's name, Social Security number and other information, you can determine if they are here legally. It is required right now for private employers. I don't know how many are doing it, which is part of the reason, one of the items in the bill would say if you're purposely not doing it, you can have $10,000 fines.

This would extend it to the state in terms of public benefits. So for example, if you are getting public housing, you would have to verify, to E-Verify that, you know, that person is here legally. It also includes curiously enough a couple of things that I'm not sure you can. For example, it talks about, you know, food assistance. Well, food stamps are not paid for by the state or, you know, things like that. So it's gonna be an interesting question there about how far you can go with that.

Now, it's also important to remember politically that Ben Toma, who is the House speaker, as you point out, is also running for Congress in the old CD8, which is where Debbie Lesko is leaving. And you know, I can't help but believe that maybe there's a little effort there to get a little bit of attention for his Republican credentials in the primary.

Howie, I want to ask you about a strike everything amendment to a bill that would create the Arizona Space Commission. What is this and what would it do?

FISCHER: Well, you know, as the old saying goes, insert your own joke here, you know, do you want to be a space cadet, etc.? The idea is that Arizona has always wanted to be at the forefront of space exploration, not that we're sending up people from Arizona, but that we can have some sort of role in space. And if you set up a commission, then you can possibly set it up so that we could have a landing port here. You could have training programs.

The idea, you know, on paper probably is decent. I don't know that we need to know this commission, you know, versus, let's say the Commerce Authority, which is supposed to be handling economic development. But again, the idea is we, we need to have something else and it's maybe non-controversial, although who knows? I mean, we have a vote today, for example, to designate Pluto the official state planet. Now, who knows who's gonna vote against that? I mean, you know, does Pluto have anything to say about it?

It's pretty far away and pretty small. So I'm guessing the voice would be, would take a little while to get here. So how I mentioned that this is, is Crossover Week, a lot of floor action. Are you expecting lengthy agendas for both a debate by the full House and Senate as well as final votes on a lot of bills?

FISCHER: Oh, you're gonna be talking about sessions with 30 and 40 bills up, and that doesn't even count the Appropriations Committees, which are still allowed to handle bills, which also become the place where if you have something that hasn't gotten through the way you want, you do a strike everything amendment, they each have 30 or 40 bills.

And so we're probably looking at a lot of late nights now, also remember to a certain extent it's a bit of their own fault. For example, on Mondays, the House and Senate don't come in till 1 p.m. Why not be working like us at this hour? I don't know. And they don't tend to work at all on Fridays, which gets into one other quick side issue, which is, can you really do justice to major legislation when you're limited to 5 to 10 minutes on a bill and say, well, sorry, you've got all your questions answered, we're gonna move it along. Which leads to various efforts of, the old saying, legislate in haste, repent at leisure and you suddenly find out we enacted what?

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.