House approves expense bill to clear way for pay raise | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

House approves expense bill to clear way for pay raise

Posted By on Wed, Mar 18, 2015 at 2:50 PM

click to enlarge DEFENDS PAY RAISE: Speaker Jeremy Gillam.
  • DEFENDS PAY RAISE: Speaker Jeremy Gillam.
The House voted 90-1 today for a personal expense bill that will clear the way for a 150 percent pay raise.

The independent citizens commission established by Amendment 94 on Monday approved a raise in legislative pay from $15,869 to $39,400 and $45,000 for the leaders of the House and Senate. Those pay raises were conditioned on the House and Senate giving up a $14,400 expense account that many drew as a pure salary supplement by claiming payment for an LLC operated by a relative.

The bill doesn't give up all expenses. Legislators will continue to receive up to $150 a day in per diem for expenses, including on many days they don't work; and will be reimbursed for mileage expenses at 56 cents a mile, where other state employees get 42 cents. Also, dozens of them will qualify for $3,600 in flat expense payments for serving as chair or vice chair of the many legislative committees.

Rep. John Walker said he knew the bill would pass and urged others to join him in casting a symbolic no vote. He said it "sends a bad message" for legislators and others to get huge pay increases while state agencies are being held to little or no pay increases — 1 percent in the case of higher education. "We can make no representations of fiscal fidelity .... and say the state has to be parsimonious when we are feathering our own nests." He said legislators knew the pay when they ran.

That drew Speaker Jeremy Gillam to the well to say that the bill wasn't about pay but about House management. He said it fulfilled an obligation he and Senate President Jonathan Dismang had made to the pay commission. He said Walker and others were free to waive salary increases if they chose. 

Rep. Gary Deffenbaugh spoke for the measure by saying legislators weren't getting much of a pay raise. He said they'd have to pay taxes on the additional $23,500, which will be "very little raise" against the old pay and expense allotment. That's true if the expense allotment paid was just a salary supplement and not reimbursement for expenses. Which of course it was for many. Deffenbaugh also apparently misunderstands the effective tax rate. Income taxes wouldn't take more than a quarter of that pay raise for most lawmakers.

In the end, only Walker voted no.

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