A trade for better ethics? | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A trade for better ethics?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 6:33 AM

Rep. John Burris
  • Rep. John Burris
I've heard this morning from Rep. John Burris, the outgoing Republican House caucus leader, about developing ideas for an ethics package by the expanded GOP legislative contingent. He thinks some small items — travel reimbursement rules (to end roundabout road trips and, I'd hope, abuses by the likes of Mark Martin) and double-dipping by state employees are easily addressed. (Double-dipping has mostly already been addressed, actually, except for a relative handful of people in DROP programs.)

Burris is thinking in broader, even exciting, terms, too. Specifically: A constitutional amendment that would adopt the so-called Walmart rule on lobbying (lobbyists could give nothing of value to public officials, the same policy the giant retailer sets for dealing with vendors) but would also increase pay of elected officials, perhaps by doubling the roughly $15,000 legislators now receive.

My first thoughts weren't wholly laudatory. Legislators would be swapping free meals and drinks and the occasional golf junket for a 100 percent pay raise. It would appear to admit that legislators see tangible benefits in the perks they receive and believe they should receive something in return if they give them up. (The appearance is pretty much reality for some lawmakers.)

The proposal is somewhat akin to the last amendment that granted pay raises, with COLAs, to public officials. It included an end to "public relations accounts," an extralegal salary supplement for constitutional officers.

I agree that legislating has become nearly a full-time job. We now have annual sessions. I've always thought a case could be made for higher pay. It is probably true that voters might not go along with that prospect on an up-or-down basis without some givebacks. But there's a way to do it with more of a good government sheen.

The lobby rule could be adopted by statute. It would be a dramatic expression of good government if legislators would adopt that rule and THEN ask voters to increase their pay at the next election, not simply say they wouldn't do one without the other. (And don't forget that cooling-off period on becoming a lobbyist, Rep. Burris.)

That's my kneejerk reaction anyway. What's yours?

Democrats, will you play this worthy game, or hold on to business as usual?

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