CHIEF JUSTICE KEMP: Seeks big pay raise for Supreme Court.
The Independent Citizens Commission
has begun deliberations this year on pay raises for state elected officials and got a request for a big pay raise for the Supreme Court at the outset.
Among the first to appear was Chief Justice John Dan Kemp
of the Arkansas Supreme Court. He's presented a proposal for an 11 percent pay raise for the Supreme Court and 2 percent for other judges — district, circuit
and court of appeals. You might recall that other members of the Supreme Court
— Karen Baker
and Jo Hart
— complained bitterly two years ago despite huge pay raises (Kemp was not then on the court). They seemed to think their pay wasn't sufficiently larger than that of Court of Appeals (only $5,000 more, but the Court of Appeals receives mileage allowances)) and circuit judges. The Supreme Court was boosted by 11 percent in 2015 from $149,895 to $166,500 (which, according to the National Center for State Courts already ranks 29th
in the country as of Jan. 1 this year while the state's per capita income ranks 48th.)
Kemp provided information that showed states in the region had approved Supreme Court pay raises recently. He said the aim was to establish a "pyramid" pay grid, essentially to put the Supreme Court more clearly superior to the other courts, from $140,000 for district (municipal level) judges to $180,000 for the Supreme Court. He said this would be comparable to Tennessee, Iowa, Missouri and Louisiana. He also noted state-employed lawyers and IT employees were slated for a 6.5 percent increase next year. He also cited a raise
from $132,000 to $190,000 for the University of Arkansas general counsel.
About half of state employees are looking at a 1 percent pay raise in the coming fiscal year. Others are scheduled for varying amounts on account of a readjustment of the state plan, mostly to benefit those on the lower end. Merit pay raises for this year are up in the air because of state revenue shortfalls.
Nobody spoke up at today's meeting for state constitutional officers or the legislature.
Commissioner Barbara Graves
said she was inclined to favor a 2 percent increase for all public officials because a failure to grant any raises over a period of time would lead to the need for a big adjustment, such as occurred in 2015. She'd earlier said she was interested in knowing what other state employees had received.
Commissioner Chuck Banks
said he wanted some more information about expense payments and benefits for judges. They are covered by the state health insurance plan and also have a defined benefit pension plan, pegged to pay in the final year of employment.
The commission was established by a constitutional amendment approved in 2014. It solved a political problem for legislators, putting pay raises in the hands of a commission rather than having to set pay for themselves. They controlled membership of the commission, however, and it has been kind to elected officials.
These were the pay levels adopted in 2015.
* GOVERNOR: $79,132 to $130,000, an increase of 64 percent.
* LT. GOVERNOR: Stayed at $42,315.
* ATTORNEY GENERAL: From $73,132 to $130,000, an increase of 77 percent
* SECRETARY OF STATE: From $54,848 to $90,000, an increase of 64 percent
* AUDITOR, TREASURER
AND LAND COMMISSIONER: All mad $54,848, they were moved to $85,000, an increase of 55 percent.
* DISTRICT JUDGES: From $125,950 to $140,000, up 11 percent
* CIRCUIT JUDGES: From $140,372. to $160,000, up 14 percent.
* COURT OF APPEALS: From $144,982 to $161,500, up 11 percent. The chief judge, $147,286 to $164,000, also up 11 percent.
* SUPREME COURT: From $149,589 to $166,500, up 11 percent. The chief justice,from $161,601 to $180,000, up 11 percent
* PROSECUTORS got a 22 percent pay raise to $152,000 at the top end.
Legislators still get untaxed per diem for attendance at committee meetings and legislative sessions.
The commission made no changes in pay ranges in 2016. No action was taken today and no one spoke about pay changes except Kemp and Judge David Guthrie,
president of the Arkansas Judicial Council, which represents all judges. Guthrie acknowledged the "significant" pay raise in 2015 and indicated the judges would prefer a system with cost
of living adjustments rather than periodic major changes.
The committee will be meeting again.