The latest legislative scam | Arkansas Blog

Friday, April 20, 2012

The latest legislative scam

Posted By on Fri, Apr 20, 2012 at 9:42 AM

Noted: The Arkansas House and Senate have a new scheme to line pockets of legislators. They have decided to pay a $61 per diem to legislators who live within 50 miles of the Capitol. A reading of the Democrat-Gazette report on the action indicates the money will be paid upfront for attendance and later specific expense reimbursements will offset it.

I was a plaintiff in a public interest lawsuit by the Arkansas Public Law Center that produced a settlement of past illegal legislative expense practices. One of our attorneys, Bettina Brownstein, opined in the paper this morning that this scheme also looks like unconstitutional income. I think Bettina is right (and gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, providing enabling cover, is wrong). This potential scheme was predicted as we moved to a settlement. But we could only sue over existing practices, not any new schemes the legislature might be expected to develop.

Under IRS rules, this money is taxable income. It will be reported as taxable income. It can be offset as taxable income only under the very rigid rules that the IRS sets for business expenses. Little Rock residents, for example, can't claim mileage expenses for driving to work in Little Rock.

The legislators who try to claim this money will open up a new can of worms on whether this is just an artifice to receive an unconstitutional income supplement. Not that they give a fig. They just want their money.

The simple solution remains. If legislators are worth more money for their work, the means to do it is in their hands. They should send a constitutional amendment to the ballot. Not dream up schemes and gimmicks to avoid the limits of the state's founding document.

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