Arizona legislators turn in their work late, again

State Lawmakers have spent over four year’s worth of extra time in session in the last decade

Creative Commons photo by Jimmy Emerson
Legislators wrote the rules that they have to get their work done within 100 days—so why can’t they get out in time?

As the legislature looks towards its 116 days in session, lawmakers are turning in their work a little late—though they’re doing much better than the recent past.

Within the past decade, from 2001-2011, legislators have spent an extra 455 days in office—over four extra year’s worth.

The worst year was 2009 (171 days long) where 191 bills, at least a hundred fewer than usual, crawled through the legislature. Only two bills passed through the legislature within the 100-day timeframe.

The best year in recent history was last year, but still the legislature pushed the 101 day mark. Within the wee hours of the morning, of the one-hundred-first day, over a quarter of all the laws made were pushed through last-minute.

But on average, legislative sessions have averaged 155 days in the past decade.

Why can’t Arizona’s legislature get work done on time?

“It’s because we have too many squishies that like to spend money and waste our time arguing over the budget,” said Majority Whip Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Vail. He said 2009’s record-breaking stay was due to arguments over the budget and the one-cent sales tax. This year, figuring out what to do with the surplus, instead of the usual argument over the deficit, also stalled the session, he said.

“The budget is always the problem,” Antenori said.

That problem costs taxpayers extra cash, to the tune of $1.1 million over the past 10 years in extra per-diem cash for legislators, not to mention paying more to hourly wage earners, like extra security guards and supplemental staff in both houses. But that’s not much in the scheme of things, Antenori said.

Other legislators like Speaker of the House Rep. Andy Tobin, R-Dewey, said every year is different.

“It’s not a matter of whether you do business right, it’s just getting [bills] through the process,” Tobin said. He cited a large volume of bills and budget talks, as examples of when there’s “some stress on the system.”

“You try to get out as soon as you can, you try not to dilly dally around because you want to get those people back to their district,” Tobin said.  “But that’s the way it works.”

But Minority Leader Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Tempe, thinks the entire system should move toward more efficiency.

“At the end of the day that’s an efficiency thing, its an accountability thing and hopefully if you do that you make it more transparent and more cost effective for the taxpayer,” Campbell said. “Speed isn’t necessarily a good thing either, that’s part of the problem.”

He cited this year as an example of a legislature that ended fairly quickly, but achieved little in his view.

“It’s not good to finish in 100 days if all you’re doing is pushing through really bad policy and a really bad budget, which is what we did this session. I think the taxpayers would be much happier if we took 120 days to push responsible policy,” Campbell said.

Ultimately, Campbell said he hopes next session will bring less political grandstanding, with a focus more on state issues, he said.

“These bills not only are they irrelevant and useless, a lot of them are just downright unconstitutional, and we’ve wasted a lot of time and a lot of money on these ideas. They don’t address any issue that the average person is concerned about, “Campbell said. He pointed to bills like HCR2004, which rejects federal oversight over land, air, and water in Arizona, which would essentially demand back federal land to the state.

“We have to look at the system down here and figure out how we can make it more efficient and make it more modernized and take some innovative approaches to how we legislate in this state,” Campbell said.

Looking forward, Campbell said he thinks legislators need to weigh the responsibilities of the legislature more heavily.

“I would hope as a body we could consider what we should be debating and shouldn’t be debating in the long run, and be more responsible to the taxpayers of this state,” Campebell said.

Regardless, if the legislature drags on, a little sport will always remain.

Each year, legislative staff essentially runs a betting pool that anyone can participate in.

Anyone can guess when the Legislature will ajourn with a little “donation” to the pot. Whoever guesses correctly this year will win $334.

 

Mejdrich is a senior at the University of Arizona and is the Bolles Fellow this semester covering the Legislature. The fellowship was named to honor former Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles who was assassinated in the line of duty.

 

 

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