Spotlight: Arkansas legislature's pay supplements | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spotlight: Arkansas legislature's pay supplements

Posted By on Sat, Mar 19, 2011 at 7:30 AM

The Blue Hog Report made a fine political point the other day by highlighting the Republican bloc that was standing in way of tiny state spending increases, including a piddly $6,000 for the Arkansas School for the Deaf. These same penny-pinching Republicans, he recounted in detail, are scoring up to $24,000 a year or so in "reimbursements" for alleged home office expenses. There is no accountabiility for these payments. Nearly all of the lawmakers set up dummy fronts to accept the money. It is generally understood that these payments are just an artifice to get around the constitutional limit on legislative pay.

Blue Hog (Matt Campbell), is back today with a useful and extensive background piece on the practice. It's a bipartisan outrage. Democrats and Republicans alike line their pockets with this money. (Undoubtedly, some of them might be able to make the case that they have some legitimate expenses for legislative work that these payments defray, but you won't find an accounting of it in the Capitol. It's not required.) Blue Hog notes the sloppy nature of the paper fronts set up to scoop the cash. Some have been dissolved. At least one, Rep. Ed Garner's bakery, has been dissolved and is also the source of an ongoing state tax collection embarrassment for the supposed deficit hawk.

A tip of the hat to two legislators, Sen. David Johnson of Little Rock and Rep. Nate Steel of Nashville, who do not draw the pay enhancements. There may be one or two more. Here's the issue as Blue Hog sees it:

Salary padding, of course, presents a legal issue. As already noted, Amendment 70 explicitly prohibits legislators from receiving additional income from their service in the General Assembly. Yet, to the extent that the reimbursements claimed under the statute go beyond actual costs incurred in a given month, what could you call that money other than “income”? After all, a “reimbursement,” by definition, is repayment for costs incurred. Where costs were not incurred, or where the amount received exceeds those costs, the additional money is income, according to both the IRS and common sense.

What does receiving extra income under these statutes say to Arkansans, given both when the laws were put in place and the continued avarice and greed displayed in amending and abusing the system? More importantly, what can and should be done in response? It is an understatement to suggest that some changes are needed in how expenses are documented and repaid, of course. That is a given. What is not given, though, is how quickly these changes will be made; that answer almost certainly depends on how Arkansans react to the salary padding.

Illegal exaction lawsuit, anyone?

ALSO: The expense scam, Republican hypocrisy and pork barreling are all rolled up into John Brummett's today. You could sum it up this way: Money-wasting Secretary of State Mark Martin is a change exactly how?

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