The independent citizens commission established by Issue 3 to recommend new pay for state officials will meet at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 18.
I note that Scott Trotter, once a Common Cause activist but in recent years occupied mostly in a law practice that includes representing major utility companies, has volunteered to assist the commission at no cost.
Trotter sounds more solicitous of the needs of legislators than I’d be inclined to be.
He does discuss as a baseline my own idea of applying CPI index increases since voters increased pay Jan. 1, 1993. But that need not be a “baseline.” That could be the final figure.
He also urges them to factor in the loss of free meals by lobbyists under the amendment. Why? This was always a corrupt practice, abused by many. Some didn’t take the payola. Business can and should be done without a free bar tab. Pay was never set based on consideration of free meals before. It shouldn’t be viewed differently now.
He also urges them to look at per diem claims by legislators as a measure of their work. He may not know, as I do, that legislators have been abusing per diem. They claim it for days they don’t go to the Capitol. They endeavor to sign the roll for committees to which they don’t belong to boost their per diem. The fact that per diem has become a pay supplement is a sign of corruption, not necessarily a sign of harder toil. Nor do we necessarily want to encourage a full-time legislature. He urges consideration of the fiscal session in setting pay. It is supposed to be only a brief 30-day session limited to budget needs. They meet annually. But they don’t meet full-time annually. And we don’t want them to do so.
Some legislators have combined pay, expense account abuse, lobbyist payola and illegal per diem (not to mention sham expense payments to spouses) to carve out a comfortable living without holding down real jobs. I think we want to encourage less, not more, of that.
Former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker made a good point at a public meeting yesterday in talking about the fact that pensions had been made very sweet for public officials at times in return for relatively modest salaries. Legislators, for example, once enjoyed multipliers of years of service in computing state retirement. Several of them also got moved into high-paying state jobs that became the benchmark for use in the formula. Judicial pensions are quite good and judges enjoy pay that ranks high among the states, as I’ve already noted. The pensions have automatic 3 percent COLAs as well.
This pay commission can’t make it law, but there is currently no transparency about pensions. The legislature, in return for all it is about to get, should be encouraged by the commission to guarantee that we know the pensions public officials are going to receive for their public service, and how they can be affected by pay raises and new job appointments. The only way to fully evaluate pay is to have a full understanding of all that comes with the job. And that includes, currently, continued state subsidy of health insurance after retirement, a benefit most in the private sector don’t enjoy.
So, yes, look at national pay. And don’t forget Arkansas ranks 48th in per capital income. No need to rank 25th in pay of legislators and state officials. And when pay scales are set, the commission should factor in pensions; urge disclosure of pensions; consider existing COLAs for pensions; and consider existing low-cost, high-quality insurance coverage on the job and after retirement as part of the pay package.
And, please, ignore Trotter’s crazy notion to consider loss of lobbyist wining and dining as an excuse to increase pay. As I’ve demonstrated today, the Chamber of Commerce is taking care of three free meals and evening cocktails every day when the legislature is in session. This, in addition to an amendment written to give legislators more pay, more years in office and merely a fig leaf of better ethics. Trotter ought to have some clue on this. He’s doing legal work currently for Entergy Arkansas, long one of the major financial contributors to the chamber of commerce lobbying effort. The chamber runs the social calendar.
PS: Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has already designated a member of his staff to work with the commission on whatever legal needs it might has. That ought to be sufficient legal advice. It’s free, too.