When voters approved Amendment 70 to increase elected officials' pay, the amendment made it clear that extra payments would not be allowed and the campaign for the amendment made it clear that it would be end of public relations funds and other subterfuges to increase pay for elected officials without technically increasing their pay.
Well, the political class is restless. A bill floating around this session was amended this week, which indicates it is still very much alive. HB 2435 by Rep. Bruce Maloch originally set up a multi-part housing allowance for constitutional offices and judges on statewide courts. Now the bill has been amended to remove judges and to provide a single housing allowance, up to $12,000, for constitutional officers. Maloch says this is necessary to make the offices attractive to people statewide. Funny, last time I looked, most of the constitutional officers were from outside Little Rock -- Searcy, Jonesboro, Newport, etc.
Maloch's reasoning is that since the IRS doesn't deem a housing allowance income if it doesn't exceed the housing expense, extending a housing allowance wouldn't be considered income to Arkansas office holders. From a federal tax standpoint, perhaps. But it would break ranks violently with voters on the Constitutional amendment approved by voters. And, after housing allowances, why not meal allowances. And food allowances. And utility allowances. And gasoline allowances. Etc. Any average citizen knows well that extra money -- particularly untaxed extra money -- is additional income.
This argument doesn't fly with me, though it likely will fly high with legislators, ever hopeful of moving to higher office and ever hopeful of passing their own schemes for enhancing income. It might be time for a little legal action, in fact, on the ever fatter expense allowances that legislators are drawing. I've got a kewpie doll for anyone who thinks every legislator can justify all the money he or she draws with receipts for actual expenses.
From Amendment 70: "No officials of the executive department shall be reimbursed by the state of Arkansas for any expenses except those reasonably connected to their official duties and only if such documented expense is actually incurred and from the regular budget appropriated for the officials' office."