A warning about a full time Legislature

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 52 views 

It is not too often one sees a veteran lawmaker like State Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis kicking up dust about legislative salaries.

But this past week the long-time public servant who has been a former mayor, former state House of Representatives member, and now a state Senator, is calling upon the public to urge the Independent Citizens Commission NOT to raise legislative pay.

Ingram knows this is not going to be a popular stance with his 134 fellow legislators. Few of them have said anything about the issue – being quiet you see, can reap rewards. But Ingram said he has been there before – on the right side of an issue – but not always a popular side of the issue.

And Ingram noted he has heard very little favorable back home in his state senate District when it comes to these proposed pay increases. That’s where lawmakers should always be paying attention, Ingram said.

“Back home is where voters are talking (and) you had better, as a legislator in Arkansas, pay attention to what they are saying.”

In a sharp and succinct press release, Ingram warned of the impending pay increases which Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Taxpayer will foot the bill of those higher salaries. He says the money for these raises could better be spent on state programs needing more funding. But more than just increased pay for the state’s Representative and Senators, Ingram warns of a stealth move toward a “full-time” legislature.

“Full time does not always mean better,” Ingram said.

One does not have to look far from Arkansas’ borders to see other state’s with a practical “full time” legislature, he said.

“And those states seem to have some of the same problems I see Arkansas having if we move in that direction.”

Ingram says every member of the Arkansas legislature knew what the salary was before seeking the office they currently hold.

“The pay, has never, ever, kept anyone from running,” Ingram said.

The Independent Citizens’ Commission is seeking to raise legislative pay from $15,869 to $39,000. The House Speaker and the President of the State Senate will see their pay raised to $45,000 under the current play being proposed.

How did we get here?

Ingram says he like many other Arkansans woke up on the morning after the November General Election in 2015, utterly surprised that Amendment 94 passed voters’ approval. Ingram says he has been in coffee shops, retail stores and all over his district in eastern Arkansas, but can find very few people who say they voted for Amendment 94. He can find even fewer who knew that legislative pay might be raised by so much as it proposed.

Ingram said while there was some sympathy for the low salaries of the governor and other Constitutional offices, he’s heard little sympathy for the salaries proposed for state representatives and state senators.

When it comes to expenses, travel and other reimbursements, Ingram warns that this Independent Citizens’ Commission was to set salaries and little else. A simple vote of the legislature in the future could install and implement expenses and other perks for lawmakers once the salaries are set.

And so it goes.

Ingram is also loudly calling attention to the fact that Arkansans can write, email and yes, even go and testify against these salaries for legislators. The only public meeting on this issue will be at 10 a.m. March 2, in Little Rock at the University of Arkansas Systems Office in Cammack Village. The address of the hearing is 2404 N. University, Little Rock, Ark., 72207.

Ingram was one of only a handful of elected officials who asked to testify in front of the Independent Citizen’s Commission. He said he cautioned them against a big pay raise for legislators.

“The fear of creating a class of professional politicians was one of my motivations in filing legislation to abolish the fiscal session,” Ingram said in his prepared statement to the press.

He repeated that mantra this week in a phone interview.

“We do not need a full time legislature,” he said. “Arkansas has never needed a full time legislature and we certainly don’t need one now.”

Comments on the proposed plan can be sent to the Independent Citizens Commissions, c/o Office of the State Auditor, State Capitol, Little Rock, AR 72201. Or comments can be submitted on email to: [email protected]

While Ingram’s voice may be a lone voice of reason in the wilderness, it seems that voice is now echoing off the marble capitol dome.

“I know some of these really don’t like my comments, but hey, I’ve got to listen to the voters back home – that’s who sent me down to Little Rock,” he said.

Let’s hope others are listening.