Opinion says deadline could limit state official pay raises | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Opinion says deadline could limit state official pay raises

Posted By on Tue, Jan 6, 2015 at 7:44 AM

An official attorney general's opinion released yesterday said the independent commission studying pay raises for legislators, judges and state officials must make a recommendation by Feb. 2 if they are to recommend pay raises of more than 15 percent.

This would not exactly be a tragedy. A pay raise of greater than 15 percent (the commission is unlimited in what it can recommend if it makes a recommendation before Feb. 2) would be wildly out of synch in many cases with the pay scale established by constitutional amendment in 1993 and an insult to working people of Arkansas who've seen a net decline in inflation-adjusted wages over the years. This is particularly true if the pay recommendation comes with no assurances the legislature will end abusive expense practices — per diem for days not worked, pay supplements funneled through spouses and so on. Most legislators already draw nearly $50,000 a year despite t a salary around $15,000.

Sen. Jon Woods, who engineered this amendment so he could get a pay raise and stay in office longer, is quoted in the AP account of the a.g. opinion as saying the commission must have a starting point — a pay recommendation — by Feb. 2. Well, no, they don't have to.They are not required to issue a pay raise recommendation of any amount. And if they do not there is no authority to compel them to do so. 

I think the commission likely will endeavor to meet the 90-day deadline for a recommendation and that they'll likely be more generous than I'd be inclined to be on pay raises. But the voters set a guideline for raises in 1993 that legislators found it politically difficult to follow (annual pay raises pegged to inflation). To catch them all up now would be pretty generous.

I've said before that giving the elected officials all the CPI-based raises they could have gotten since 1993 would be a generous place to begin — a 29 percent pay raise for legislators. The legislature was designed by framers of the Constittuion as a part-time body. Just because some legislators want to make it a full-time job at bank executive pay doesn't mean the commission should roll over to that desire. That's a separate constitutional question altogether.

It is unseemly for legislators like Woods to be pressuring the commission to act at his behest.

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