The Independent Citizens Commission granted a 3-percent pay bump for all constitutional officers, judges, prosecutors
Update: See the proposed salary figures at the bottom of this post.
The commission also bumped up pay by 2 percent last year. There was no increase in 2016. In 2015, the first raises enacted by the commission gave healthy double-digit raises to most offices and a 150-percent bump to legislators.
The commission was created by Amendment 94 to the Arkansas Constitution — the so-called “ethics amendment” approved by voters in 2014. The concept here is that an independent body keeps the statutory pay scale in step with the duties of the various offices and adjusts it for inflation, keeping pay in line with similar positions in neighboring states.
Giving this duty to an outside commision solved an ugly political problem for the legislature, taking out of their hands the messy business of giving raises to themselves. Of course, this independent body is appointed by some powerful citizens: The seven-member commission is made up of four members appointed by the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, two more by the governor, and one by the Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Elected officials came out very well with the big 2015 bump. Max Brantley has argued in this space that given the fact that Arkansas ranks 48th in the country in per capita income, some might question why our legislators and statewide officials deserve to do much better.
The Independent Citizens Commission was part of a larger deal in the loophole-ridden Amendment 94’s efforts to curb lawmaker shenanigans regarding expenses and per diem. In 2015, the commission increased legislative pay by 150 percent, to $39,500. As part of the deal, the same month that legislators received the huge pay hike, the General Assembly passed legislation eliminating office expenses, which could previously be claimed for up to $14,400 per year (committee leaders and others in leadership positions can still claim these expense reimbursements for up to $3,600).
However, per diem and mileage expenses, as well as reimbursement expenses for travel to conferences, remain untouched. Taxpayers still end up paying many legislators tens of thousands of dollars above their base salary in per diem and mileage.
Meanwhile, though Amendment 94 technically banned gifts from lobbyists, loopholes have allowed legislators to continue to enjoy lobbyist largess in various ways, as documented exhaustively on this blog.
The legislation that referred Amendment 94 to voters was originally co-sponsored, along with Rep. Warwick Sabin, by then-Sen. Jon Woods. Woods has periodically been in the news the last few weeks.
In 2017, the commission gave a 2 percent pay increase to all elected state officials and judges, except for the lieutenant governor. Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin said at the time he did not want the raise, and he told the D-G that he paAt the time, Chief Justice Dan Kemp told the commission the Supreme Court should get an 11 percent raise, but the commission rejected that proposal.
UPDATE: We’ve calculated the proposed 3 percent increase for each position, based on the salary levels approved by the commission in 2017. For comparison, we’ve also included the salary levels before the last pay raise in 2017.