The Independent Citizens Commission met again today at the UALR Law School to continue its consideration of whether or not to raise salaries for statewide elected officials. The commission heard from Circuit Judge and former state legislator Shawn Womack, who advocated for an increase in judicial pay.
But they also heard from one state representative who was adamant that he did not want the commission to give him or his colleagues an increase in pay, at least nothing that would take away from the part-time nature of what he says should be a “citizen legislature.”
Rep. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, has never been shy about expressing his views since serving off-and-on in both chambers of the Legislature since being first elected in 1978. He says part of his motivation for speaking at the commission meeting today was in response to House Speaker Jeremy Gillam’s testimony last week when he told the commission most House members were working close to a full-time job.
“Americans do not want a full-time legislature whether it’s in Washington or in Little Rock,” said Hendren. He tells me that he is concerned that if legislators’ salaries are raised to the $30-$40,000 range they will view the position as a full-time position and that is not the way it is intended to be. He also said he opposed the recently passed Issue No. 3 and he “wanted to give a voice to those who voted against it.”
But not all of his colleagues agree. In fact, many do not.
Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale, tells me that the current time demands combined with the low salary creates a situation where “you have to be retired or independently wealthy” to run for the state Legislature.
Neal owns a family restaurant in Springdale – Neal’s Café. During the session, he has his dad help him run the business and has to hire extra workers to supplement for his absence. He feels raising the salaries would allow more people to be able to afford to run for office.
Either way, the commission is under a time clock to make a decision. State legislators currently make $15,869. If the commission does not propose a salary increase by February 3, then they will be limited to an increase or decrease of no more than 15%. At the current level, that would limit the increase to no more than an extra $2,380, or a salary of $18,249.
A suggestion for the commission: perhaps with the limited amount of time before the February 3 deadline – now less than 20 days away – they should focus on the lowest paid officials they deal with first and work their way up from there. The 15% limitation would effect the lowest paid state officials the most and it seems these might be the ones in greatest need of an adjustment outside the 15% range.