A state commission has begun work on whether to recommend pay raises for state elected officials and judges under terms of Issue 3, the constitutional amendment adopted by voters in November.
I have some further thoughts on that in a column I wrote for last week’s Arkansas Times.
In short: Arkansas ranks 48th in the country in per capita income, it’s hard to figure why our legislators and statewide officials deserve to do much better. (Judges here already are solidly in the middle of pay in the 50 states.) Another big issue is a recommendation on expenses, already misused by state legislators as pay supplements. Again, this should be simple. State officials should follow rules of private business. You are only reimbursed for actual, documented business expenses. Per diem is intended to cover expenses for attending legislative meetings, not as a pay supplement. It should be paid only on days when a lawmaker is at work at the Capitol. And we must put a stop to sham payments to spouses as legislative helpmates. It’s a transparent pay supplement for those shameless enough to claim it.
I thought of this gain the other day when Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson said Arkansas needed a huge increase in the pay of the director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission — maybe a 50 percent boost in existing pay to about $200,000 or so. You have to pay that kind of money to attract the kind of talent needed to attract big business, or so Hutchinson says.
To repeat my tired old refrain: HIgh-priced soap salesmen and lavish corporate welfare and bargain basement taxes are not the key to economic development. Location and transportation infrastructure are important for heavy industry. A quality infrastructure and good quality life are important for creative, tech-savvy business. Fine streets, mass transportation, great libraries, good museums, fine schools. These attract business. They require public investment (taxes). An educated workforce is paramount. People with brains and ideas are more valuable than a low capital gains tax (many corporations here already enjoy law-provided accounting tricks that reduce state tax rates to pittances.)
You can pay your AEDC director $1 million a year, but if he’s selling a place with crumbling infrastructure, poorly educated citizens and a resistance to equal treatment to all, he’ll be little more than a Music Man selling imaginary trombones.