Our View

Our View

Even some lawmakers admit raises a bad idea

When Arkansas voters passed Amendment 94 to the Arkansas Constitution in November 2014 little did they realize that they opened Pandora’s box.

What Amendment 94 did was create what is now known as the state’s Independent Citizens Commission, a seven member group of people who do nothing but hand out our tax dollars for pay raises.

This commission, whose members are mainly from Little Rock, one from Sherwood and the other from Cabot, have obviously become elected officials’ best friends, particularly among our part-time legislators who were given generous raises in 2015, and just recently 2 percent pay increases that will cost us, the taxpayers, an additional $708,000 a year.

These raises will boost the cost of these elected officials’ salaries to an eye-opening $40.1 million in fiscal 2018, which started July 1.

The reason given to those questioning such generosity was simply that they were just being “fair”, but some of these politicians are expressing concern that these raises aren’t sitting well with their constituents back home, and they are correct.

One lawmaker who has some concern, Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, said it didn’t seem fair that lawmakers are getting raises when long-term state employees are getting less increases this year. And, Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, said “from the folks back home… all they know is that the people in Little Rock decided to give politicians a raise.”

An e-mail to commissioners from a person believed to be a state employee said, “It is reprehensible that at a time where the state cannot afford to give long term state employees an increase of more than 1 percent in the new state employees pay plan that the judges and elected officials feel they should receive more, especially after most of them received pay adjustments in the months after our new governor took office. So please, Independent Citizens Commission, keep all the taxpayers and other state employees in mind when meeting on this decision. Most of us do not get paid to drive back and forth to work, or get paid per diem in addition to our salary…”

Oh, but Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, said the commission’s decision to grant raises to lawmakers is rational.

Let us remind taxpayers that in 2015 this commission granted significant raises to most of the elected officials. The 2015 raises increased the total cost of those salaries by $7.3 million a year.

This commission boosted the salary of 99 state representatives and 34 state senators from $39,400 to $40,188 a year and the pay for the House speaker and Senate pro tempore from $45,000 to $45,900.

These elected politicians took the so-called monkey off their backs related to giving themselves raises by putting before voters this amendment that created this commission and voters fell hook, line and sinker for its passage.

Now, the only way this can be changed is if the voters somehow have a chance to change the constitution, which we doubt they will ever have a chance to do without some strong campaigning.

Let’s not fool ourselves into actually believing our senators and representatives are going to do anything that will lead to the elimination of this commission that has been so financially beneficial to them.