It’s time for Tucson’s mayor and council to get a raise

Guest commentary

If you are an Arizonan who earns the minimum wage, good news! You'll be getting a raise on Jan. 1, 2020 to $12 per hour. That works out to $24,960 per year if you work full time.

However, if you are a member of the Tucson city council, you're not covered by the state's minimum wage law. And unless Tucson voters are feeling generous, you'll still be earning $24,000 per year—less than the state's minimum wage and the same thing council members were paid two decades ago.

That's unfair. And it is preventing a lot of well-qualified people from stepping up and seeking these critically important positions.

No business can expect to attract qualified workers unless they offer competitive salaries.

Yet we are asking members of the Tucson city council to manage what is essentially a $1.5 billion corporation with 4,500 employees—and do it for less than what minimum wage employees in this state will soon be earning.

Each one of us is part-owner of this large and important business venture that is the City of Tucson. And it is time for us to offer decent salaries to our seven most important employees: the mayor and members of the city council.

Doing so would cost each of us about only about 2 cents per month; less than a quarter annually.

Tucsonans have historically rejected salary increases for our elected officials. They have not received a raise for two decades.

By not offering salaries that are even close to competitive, we severely limit the number of people who can afford to seek these important positions.

Tucson's city charter requires that every two years a commission be established to review the salaries of elected officials. Seven volunteers, including the five of us, were appointed by the city manager to conduct a study and report our recommendations, which are then placed on the ballot.

The bipartisan group of us recommended that the annual salary of the mayor be increased from $42,000 to $63,128; and that the annual salary of council members be increased from $24,000 to $42,081.

These numbers were selected with substantial research. The recommended increases would mean city council members would earn the median household income for the city, as measured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development.

The final decision will be made by voters, as Proposition 409 on the November general election ballot.

We understand those would be substantial raises. They are bigger raises then any of us received in the past year. But this is why we made this recommendation:

• The mayor and council members have not received a raise since 1999. Since then, inflation reduced their income by 51 percent, while the city population grew by 10 percent and the city budget grew by 45 percent.

• Increasing the salaries would make it possible for a larger number of people to seek the offices. With the current salary, the pool of potential candidates tilts largely to people who are independently wealthy, have a spouse with a well-paying job or are retired. A higher salary would allow more people, including those with a business background, to seek these important positions.

• Increasing the salaries would allow the mayor and council members the flexibility to be more available to their constituents, to meet the demands of their elected positions and to meet the expectations of we, their bosses.

• Tucsonans have entrusted the mayor and council with substantial responsibilities in recent years. Voters have approved $225 million in parks bonds, $100 million in street repair bonds and a half-cent sales tax increase for police and fire equipment and infrastructure improvements.

• Voters also have entrusted the mayor and council with overseeing the successful revitalization of commercial and residential development in downtown Tucson.

Tucson's business leaders know that this is a reasonable and overdue request. The proposal has been endorsed by the Tucson Metro Chamber.

It is time to encourage more people—young people, business owners and others—to step up and serve on the city council. They can't afford to do so at the current salary level, which doesn't allow a wide range of qualified applicants to lead our city.

Vote "yes" on Proposition 409. It's right for Tucson.

The authors were members of the Citizens' Commission on Public Service and Compensation.

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