The Independent Citizens Commission officially approved a 3-percent pay bump for all constitutional officers, judges, prosecutors and lawmakers yesterday. The total cost of the raises will be $1.2 million annually.
The commission sent its resolution to the state auditor’s office after a two week public comment period ended (the pay bump was announced two weeks ago).
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 D-G reports that Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin tried again to grandstand and refuse the pay bump but it’s happening anyway. Griffin does seem like a special case since he holds an office that serves no purpose. It would be a bit more noble if Griffin refused his salary altogether for his goofy figurehead job.
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.
Amendment 94 to voters and the creation of this commission is part of the legacy of former state Sen. Jon Woods, who was recently found guilty on federal corruption charges.
Here’s the last two pay bumps: