I reported last week on the proposed settlement of a lawsuit by the Arkansas Public Law Center (of which I’m a part) and the state of Arkansas over legislative expense payments. The agreement will end flat payments that have amounted to salary supplements. But it will allow expense payments when properly documented.
Proper documentation means what, exactly?
Here’s the plan, for example, for a member of the House to seek expense reimbursement. It’s lengthy and detailed. It will be subject to audit. Can I guarantee some members won’t seek or find ways to use expense procedures to their advantage? Can I guarantee taxpayers will save money by this requirement of transparent accounting? No and no. But a wealth of documents will be on the record for the public to inspect and the Constitution pay limit no longer will be ignored.
Also, here are the (longer) Senate procedures.
Speaking of pay: The advent of this lawsuit spurred many legislative complaints, including from legislators I believe diligent and ethical. The past expense practices, they acknowledged, amounted to pay enhancements. But without them, they said, they couldn’t afford to devote the time they spend on legislative duties. That may be so. But if legislators, in their wisdom, and voters, in theirs, wish to change the pay formula they may do so. Legislators may routinely adopt a cost-of-living pay increase every year by statute and voters may choose to ratify an increase in pay caps in an amendment referred by legislators or initiated by petition. You could argue that voters might look more kindly on a pay increase knowing that expense accounts aren’t being abused. And they REALLY might be more kindly disposed if the Regnat Populus 2012 ethics reform proposal gets on the ballot and is approved to end payola from lobbyists.