LARRY ROSS: Pay commission chair schedules economic review.
Michael Wickline reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning
that the independent citizens pay commission for elected officials will meet May 18, if the legislature isn't in session, to consider whether economic conditions merit another pay raise for state elected officials.
Just say no.
Background: Voters in 2014 gave elected officials a pass into the state vault with a laughingly named ethics amendment that extended their terms and (with legislative amending) protects them from ethics violations, preserves free lobbyist trips and wining and dining while seeming to say otherwise and also freed them from the politically risky responsibility of setting their own pay. That was turned over to an "independent" commission — its members appointed by the politicians who benefit from the commission decisions. The first round couldn't have been sweeter for the political class.
Legislators got a 250 percent pay raise, to almost $40,000. They still keep their lavish per diem, good for another $30,000 or so a year, untaxed, for most of them.
The attorney general, busy suing against the interests of working people got nearly a 100 percent pay raise, to $140,000. Judges make from $140,000 to $166,000. No statewide official makes less than $85,000. This is dang good money in one of the country's poorest states. The median FAMILY (not individual) income in Arkansas in 2014 was about $41,000.
But that's not all. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has ordered a small across the board reduction in state spending. His budget anticipates no cost-of-living pay raise for state employees. He wants to impose co-pays on the working poor with their health insurance (financed by Obamacare, which the governor says he opposes but wants to keep nonetheless.) We have the most punitive welfare rules in the country — tiny payments, cut off well before the maximums allowed by law, no food stamp waivers for chronically unemployed, and so forth. If the legislature doesn't continue the Obamacare-financed Medicaid expansion, the budget will take a hit that could exceed $100 million.
Is it really time for another pay raise for politicians? Are they not state employees? Perhaps a 1 percent cut would be more in keeping with the times.
Larry Ross, chair of the commission, says he'll have the state's leading economic forecaster, John Shelnutt, talk to the commission about the state of things. He's a state employee — salary set by the legislature.