State Lawmakers Reject Raises for Judges, Prosecutors

by Andrew DeMillo  on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 2:09 pm  

LITTLE ROCK - A legislative committee on Wednesday recommended keeping salaries flat for Arkansas' elected officials, stripping a proposed pay raise for judges and prosecutors from a budget bill but leaving open the possibility that the salary increase could be revisited later this session.

The Joint Budget Committee advanced the proposed General Appropriation Act, which sets the funding levels for the state's executive, legislative and judicial branches. The measure is the first budget bill lawmakers must pass during the legislative session, which began Monday.

The $38 million bill would keep elected officials' salaries flat. The panel removed a provision that would have increased salaries for prosecutors and judges - including the state's Supreme Court justices and Appeals Court judges - by about 2 percent. The pay raises cost about $650,000.

Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, proposed taking the raise out after noting that the measure would keep other elected officials' pay flat.

"Why are we going to carve them out to do something different with judges and prosecutors right now, this early in the session?" Key said.

Legislative leaders, however, said they were open to revisiting the proposed raises for judges and prosecutors after working on other budget issues, including a projected shortfall in the state's Medicaid program and a proposal to give all state employees a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment or COLA.

"It's early in the game and nobody wants to deal with it today," said Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, the committee's co-chairman.

Department of Human Services officials last year projected a $138 million shortfall in the state's Medicaid program that they would have to fill with cuts to several services. DHS this week said it planned to lower that estimate and it expected to avoid removing thousands from nursing home care and hopefully other proposed service cuts.

"My sense is members want to have a broader discussion on many different topics, and I think the COLA is one," said Rep. Duncan Baird, R-Lowell, the committee's co-chairman. "If you start passing out things with COLAs, I think individuals may feel it takes away from that broader discussion."

Baird and Teague said they don't support revisiting the salaries for legislators, which would remain at $15,869 under the bill. One senator, however, suggested that senators should look at the pay for the state's constitutional officers, which has remained flat since 2009.

The state's constitutional officers are the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, land commissioner and auditor. The state constitution sets the salaries for legislators and constitutional officers, but allows the Legislature to make adjustments based on the consumer price index.

"I don't want it to just be where folks who are independently wealthy or have other means can run for (constitutional offices)," Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, said.

The House is expected to vote on the bill Tuesday.

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