Of­fi­cials’ raises to cost state $708,000

2 per­cent fis­cal ’18 pay boost OK’d by panel takes ef­fect for about 360 elected peo­ple

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL R. WICKLINE

The 2 per­cent pay in­creases for about 360 state gov­ern­ment elected of­fi­cials will cost the state about $708,000 over a 12-month pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to the state au­di­tor’s of­fice.

The raises that be­came ef­fec­tive Fri­day will boost the cost of th­ese of­fi­cials’ salaries to $40.1 mil­lion in fis­cal 2018, which started July 1, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures pro­vided by Repub­li­can state Au­di­tor An­drea Lea’s of­fice at the re­quest of this news­pa­per.

In a 4-0 vote with three com­mis­sion­ers ab­sent, the state’s In­de­pen­dent Cit­i­zens Com­mis­sion ap­proved 2 per­cent pay raises on June 27 for each of state gov­ern­ment’s elected of­fi­cials ex­cept Repub­li­can Lt. Gov. Tim Grif­fin. The com­mis­sion heeded Grif­fin’s re­quest for it to re­ject its pro­posed in­crease from $42,315 to $43,161 for his of­fice, which is con­sid­ered to be part time.

The com­mis­sion­ers had said they felt a 2 per­cent raise this year is fair, with in­fla­tion es­ti­mated at about 2 per­cent. The com­mis­sion­ers also ex­pressed a pref­er­ence for grad­u­ally inch­ing up the pay for th­ese of­fi­cials rather than putting off raises for a few years and then sig­nif­i­cantly rais­ing them.

Last year, the com­mis­sion de­clined to grant any raises, but in 2015, it granted sig­nif­i­cant raises to most of the

of­fi­cials. The 2015 raises in­creased the to­tal cost of those salaries by $7.3 mil­lion a year, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures pro­vided by Lea’s of­fice.

Most of this year’s cost cen­ters on the $387,200 to­tal of in­creas­ing 121 cir­cuit judges’ salaries from $160,000 to $163,200 a year, the $151,200cost of in­creas­ing 54 district judges’ salaries from $140,000 to $142,800 a year, and the cost of about $106,000 for rais­ing the salaries of 135 state law­mak­ers, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures pro­vided by Lea’s of­fice.

The 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.

Asked about the raise for state law­mak­ers, Se­nate Repub­li­can leader Jim Hen­dren of Sul­phur Springs said Thurs­day, “I un­der­stand the pay com­mis­sion had a job to do and they did what they were asked to do.

“I don’t think it is ap­pro­pri­ate for po­lit­i­cal pres­sure to be ap­plied one way or the other. That’s the rea­son that they were cre­ated, to be in­de­pen­dent of po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, so I didn’t in­ter­vene,” he said.

“I would pre­fer that state leg­is­la­tors not get a pay raise since we had a sig­nif­i­cant bump [in 2015], since we are ba­si­cally part time. Some more part time than oth­ers. Some of us would like to be more part time than we are,” said Hen­dren, who is a busi­ness­man.

“Hav­ing said that, I’m not go­ing to crit­i­cize what they have done. I’m go­ing to take the raise that I got. I’m go­ing to do­nate it to some en­tity that would help the foster kid cri­sis that we have in Arkansas. I’m not go­ing to is­sue a press re­lease about it. I’m not go­ing to make a big deal about it. But that’s what I in­tend to do,” Hen­dren said.

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

“It would be a cost-ofliv­ing [in­crease], prob­a­bly a lit­tle bit less than a cost-ofliv­ing,” he said.

“So the value of it is you don’t end up in the sit­u­a­tion where it is never raised over time and you end up with an ab­surdly low amount in 40 years or what­ever,” said Ballinger, who chairs the House State Agen­cies and Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs Com­mis­sion. He also is an at­tor­ney.

“Now as a leg­is­la­tor, it’s al­most such a small amount that it re­ally doesn’t make much of an im­pact, yet it brings the ire of the cit­i­zen who is say­ing, ‘I haven’t got a raise,’ [and] the small-busi­ness owner who is strug­gling to make any money he can’t give him­self a raise, yet that leg­is­la­tor is go­ing to grant him­self a raise,” he said. “From the from the folks back home … all they know is that the peo­ple in Lit­tle Rock de­cided to give politi­cians a raise.

“I think in the end it al­most cre­ates more of a headache for the leg­is­la­tor than the value of the money that’s given,” Ballinger said. “Should I up my giv­ing to some cause by $700? Maybe I should. I will think about that.”

Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, who is in the in­sur­ance busi­ness, said it didn’t seem fair that law­mak­ers are get­ting 2 per­cent raises when long-term state em­ploy­ees are get­ting 1 per­cent raises this fis­cal year.

But “the peo­ple passed” Amend­ment 94 to the Arkansas Con­sti­tu­tion in Novem­ber 2014, which cre­ated the com­mis­sion to set salaries for state elected of­fi­cials, he said.

“Their vote is what” the pay raise will be for state elected of­fi­cials un­til voters change the con­sti­tu­tion, said Teague, who is co-chair­man of the Leg­is­la­ture’s Joint Bud­get Com­mit­tee.

Be­fore the ap­proval of Amend­ment 94, the Leg­is­la­ture de­cided each year whether to grant cost-of-liv­ing raises to elected of­fi­cials.

The com­mis­sion in­cludes Chuck Banks of Lit­tle Rock, Mitch Berry of Lit­tle Rock, Bar­bara Graves of Lit­tle Rock, Stu­art Hill of Searcy, Brenda James of Lit­tle Rock, Larry Ross of Sher­wood and Stephen Tip­ton of Cabot.

Asked whether any com­mis­sion­ers had re­ceived cor­re­spon­dence about the de­ci­sion, Lea spokesman Skot Covert said Fri­day that one piece of cor­re­spon­dence “came in via email a few min­utes af­ter the meet­ing started.”

The email, pro­vided by Covert, lists the name of an in­di­vid­ual whose name is the same as a state em­ployee but who couldn’t be reached Fri­day by tele­phone or email on whether he wrote the email.

“It is ir­rep­re­hen­si­ble that at a time where the state can­not af­ford to give long term state em­ploy­ees an in­crease of more than 1% 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 (some sig­nif­i­cant) in the months af­ter our new gov­er­nor took of­fice,” the email stated. “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. If the judges get paid in neigh­bor­ing states and that is the rea­son for the need for the in­crease, let the judges move to those states. $166,000 salary lives very well in Lit­tle Rock. Again, the rich get richer on the tax­pay­ers backs.”

The state Supreme Court jus­tices re­quested 11 per­cent raises this year. The com­mis­sion de­cided on 2 per­cent in­stead.

Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice Dan Kemp asked the com­mis­sion to raise his pay to $199,800, from $180,000. The com­mis­sion ap­proved a new salary of $183,600.

Kemp asked the com­mis­sion to raise the salary of as­so­ciate jus­tices to $184,815, from $166,500. The com­mis­sion ap­proved $169,830.

In May, Kemp com­pared their salaries with the $168,045 salaries of their peers in Louisiana, $170,544 in Iowa, $172,017 in Mis­souri and $182,688 in Ten­nessee as of Jan. 1, 2017, cit­ing the Na­tional Cen­ter for State Courts. The an­nual pay for jus­tices in Arkansas’ other sur­round­ing states is $145,914 in Ok­la­homa, $152,250 in Mis­sis­sippi and $168,000 in Texas, ac­cord­ing to the cen­ter’s web­site.

Un­der an over­haul of the state’s em­ployee pay plan that went into ef­fect Sun­day, about 54 per­cent of 26,000 full-time, non-higher-ed­u­ca­tion work­ers are get­ting raises of more than 1 per­cent to new min­i­mum salaries for their po­si­tions. The rest will re­ceive 1 per­cent raises. The cost of new plan is pro­jected to be about $57 mil­lion.

Some of the larger raises are in en­try-level po­si­tions and will ben­e­fit fam­ily ser­vice work­ers, pro­gram el­i­gi­bil­ity spe­cial­ists, reg­is­tered nurses, res­i­den­tial-care as­sis­tants, cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers and state troop­ers, ac­cord­ing to state records.

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