Time to Study Legislative Salaries (Editorial)

by Arkansas Business Editors  on Monday, Feb. 18, 2013 12:00 am  

In something that looks like bipartisanship, state Rep. Warwick Sabin and state Sen. Jon Woods are proposing a constitutional amendment that, in its final state, would:

• Tighten laws governing campaign contributions and gifts to lawmakers;

• Lengthen the time that a former legislator must wait before becoming a lobbyist;

• Create a citizens’ commission that would decide salaries for lawmakers and Arkansas’ seven constitutional officers; and

• Change term limits to let legislators serve longer.

The efforts regarding contributions, gifts and lobbying mirror those encapsulated in the Campaign Finance & Lobbying Act of 2012, whose supporters failed to collect enough signatures to put the initiative on the ballot last year. Those regarding legislative salaries and term limits are a new twist. All are worth strong consideration.

Members of the Arkansas House and Senate currently receive a non-too-generous salary of $15,869 yearly, with the exceptions of the House speaker and the Senate president pro tem, who are paid $17,771.

Some lawmakers had a history of greatly supplementing their salaries through hefty and less-than-well-documented expense reimbursements, though the settlement of a lawsuit over these reimbursements appears to have curtailed the abuses — for now.

It’s time, however, to address the issue of legislative compensation in Arkansas. Voters in the state, whether they realized what they were doing or not, authorized the Legislature to meet yearly. If we expect lawmakers to strictly follow the rules governing reimbursements — and we do — then it’s fair to examine whether they’re entitled to a pay increase and if so, how much.



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