Cook: Sen. Ingram Opposes Legislative Pay Raises

by Michael Cook (michael@cooksoutlook.com) 14 views 

Today, Democratic State Senator Keith Ingram issued a press release opposing the large pay increase proposal for state legislators making him the first Democratic official to oppose raising the salaries for members of the General Assembly. Ingram raised valid points on why the large pay raise for state legislators might not be the best proposal.

As you recall, when voters approved Issue 3 last year it set into motion the creation of an independent citizen commission charged with setting the salaries of state legislators, all seven constitutional officers and all state judges.

My TB&P colleague Jason Tolbert has written many insightful posts on this topic and you can read his two most previous posts here and here.

In his press release, Senator Ingram argues that with annual sessions, one regular and one fiscal, and a massive pay raise, we could be drifting toward a full-time legislature complete with professional politicians.

From Ingram’s Press Release:

My concern about being governed by a full time legislature is that it means we run the risk of being governed by full time politicians. Arkansas is well served by our part time, citizen legislature. … If Arkansas continues its path toward a full time legislature, we will lose the real-life experience and common sense that has served our state so well since 1836. Our government will be run by professional politicians.

Ingram is also opposed to the annual fiscal sessions and has filed a constitutional amendment to end them.

I tend to agree with Senator Ingram’s point of view on this topic. The General Assembly is supposed to be a part-time citizen-legislature, comprised of people who already have full-time jobs or have retired. Having a part-time legislature means that its members remain connected to the community and bring the expertise of their full-time professions.

But now with a full-time salary and annual sessions, we’re making a drastic change to the culture of the General Assembly, potentially creating a new breed of full-time legislators, which is almost always bound to lead to trouble. An old joke floating around the State Capitol for years was that the General Assembly is supposed to meet every 2 years for 60 days, but they should meet every 60 years for 2 days. Not that funny of a joke, but you get the sentiment.

We should, however, increase the salaries of the constitutional officers since, with the exception of the Lt. Governor, they are full-time jobs with full-time duties. The current salaries are so low that many highly-qualified people have declined to run in years past since they couldn’t afford the pay cut.

The legislative reimbursement and per deim process does need to be reformed, but I’m not convinced that a massive pay raise for state legislators is the way to go. In my opinion, the almost $40,000 yearly salary would make it easier to create a full-time legislature, which is probably not a good thing for Arkansans.

Below is Ingram’s full release opposing the legislative pay raise.

SENATOR KEITH INGRAM’S OBJECTION TO LARGE PAY INCREASES

To the surprise of many political observers, the people of Arkansas approved a constitutional amendment last November that created a new salary commission for legislators, judges and constitutional officers.

The commission has recommended pay raises for elected officials, and in some cases the proposed salary increases are so dramatic as to cause concern. Legislators now earn $15,869 a year for carrying out their part-time duties at the Capitol. The Commission recommended raising their pay to $39,400 a year. The prospect of such large increases in legislative salaries is fostering a lot of conversation among the taxpayers who will foot the bill, and for that reason I want to share my thoughts.

The five-member pay commission is officially known as the Independent Citizens Commission. When it held its first hearings in January I attended and testified. I shared with the commission my concerns about the future of our citizen legislature. Large increases in salaries, in combination with the changes created by fiscal sessions, will accelerate recent trends in Arkansas toward the formation of a full time legislature.

My concern about being governed by a full time legislature is that it means we run the risk of being governed by full time politicians. Arkansas is well served by our part time, citizen legislature. In my tenure at the Capitol my colleagues have included farmers and ranchers, bankers, small businessmen, insurance agents, teachers, superintendents, coaches, principals, dentists, physicians, pharmacists, engineers, retired state troopers, attorneys, accountants, railroad men, contractors and foresters.

If Arkansas continues its path toward a full time legislature, we will lose the real-life experience and common sense that has served our state so well since 1836. Our government will be run by professional politicians.

In all of my conversations with individuals who were thinking about running for the legislature, not one ever said that the salary was the reason they did not want to serve. The main reason they declined to run was the time commitment, which has been worsened by passage of a constitutional amendment that in 2010 initiated fiscal sessions in even-numbered years. The first couple of fiscal sessions were limited to budget matters, but legislative veterans realize that they’re gradually expanding into additional lengthy regular sessions.

I shared these concerns with the commission. While I believe that the salaries of the governor and the attorney general certainly deserve a thorough review, because they certainly have full time jobs, I urged them to keep legislative salaries at current levels.

Every member of the legislature knew what our salaries were when we decided to run for office, and it did not deter any of us from seeking office. Massive pay raises for legislators is particularly distressing at a time when our state has so many needs. Funding that will go to legislative salary increases could be better spent to improve pre-K programs and to strengthen probation, parole and community corrections. It could boost our economic development efforts.

The fear of creating a class of professional politicians was one of my motivations in filing legislation to abolish the fiscal session. Arkansas has never needed a full-time legislature and we certainly don’t need one now. We deserve better.

I urge my constituents to make their opinions known to the commission, before a final decision is made. The pay commission will hold a public hearing on March 2 at 10 a.m. at the U of A System Administration Office in Cammack Village in Little Rock, at 2404 N. University, Little Rock, 72207.

You can submit written comments to the Independent Citizens Commission c/o Office of the State Auditor, State Capitol, Little Rock, AR 72201. Or you can submit them via email to this address: info@citizenscommission.ar.gov

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