Officials’ raises to cost state $708,000
2 percent fiscal ’18 pay boost OK’d by panel takes effect for about 360 elected people
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.