The Independent Citizens Commission yesterday officially approved a pay bump yesterday for members of the General Assembly and the state’s seven constitutional officers, the D-G reports.
The 135 members of the Arkansas General Assembly will receive 2.5 percent raises, as will the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, and land commissioner.
The commission recommended the raises last month and formally ratified them yesterday after the required public comment period. They will go into effect 10 days after the commission sends a resolution to the state auditor’s office.
The officials who received the raises did not request them. The independent 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. (See above for the commission’s handout showing comparable salaries in a group of states it has traditionally used as a guide.)
The commission gave the same 2.5 percent raise last fall to the state’s judges and prosecutors, plus an additional $2,500 raise for judges on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
Previously, the commission bumped up pay for all offices by 3 percent in 2018 and by 2 percent in 2017. 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.
Giving this duty to an outside commission 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.
The salary increases approved yesterday amount to a total payroll increase of $157,266 for the state (the judicial branch raises last year increased payroll by $946,300). As his wont, Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin formally asked the commission not to give him a raise. It’s a tradition for Griffin, a bit of grandstanding before his run for governor (and it got his picture in the paper last month). The commission gave him a raise anyway, correctly stating that its purpose was to set pay for the office, not the individual. In fairness to Griffin, he might have a point about the office of lieutenant governor itself, a completely superfluous position with no meaningful duties in Arkansas that couldn’t easily be done by other officials.
The commission was part of a larger deal in the efforts of loophole-ridden Amendment 94 to ostensibly curb lawmaker shenanigans regarding expenses and per diem (Amendment 94 was co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Woods, now in federal prison on corruption charges). In 2015, the commission raised legislator salaries from $15,869 a year all the way 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). In theory, a higher base salary makes more sense than dodgy expense accounting. However, per diem and mileage expenses, as well as reimbursement expenses for travel to conferences, remained 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.
Here are the raises approved yesterday:
|Office||Current Salary||New Salary||Raise|
|Secretary of State||$94,544.00||$96,917.85||$2,363.85|
|Speaker of the House||$47,277.00||$48,458.93||$1,181.93|
|Senate President Pro Tempore||$47,277.00||$48,458.93||$1,181.93|