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Pay panel backs more than doubling legislators' salaries

by Gavin Lesnick | January 30, 2015 at 9:40 a.m. | Updated January 30, 2015 at 11:44 a.m.
Independent Citizens Commission member Barbara Graves speaks while vice chairman Chuck Banks looks on Friday.

The panel tasked with setting the salaries of elected officials in Arkansas called Friday for more than doubling state legislators' salaries and for big pay increases for most of the state's constitutional officers.

The Independent Citizens Commission met Friday, making preliminary proposals on how it wants to see salaries set. Changes could come before a formal approval of the figures on Monday, which would then set in motion a public comment period. The panel will meet again in March to finalize the salaries.

For state legislators, the seven-member panel recommended salaries of $39,400 for most and $45,000 for the leaders of the two chambers. Those are more-than 148 percent and 153 percent increases from the current rates of $15,869 and $17,771, though the panel settled on the steep increase after voting to recommend largely doing away with thousands in office expense reimbursements legislators can currently claim.

The panel also voted for a nearly 61 percent increase to the governor's salary from $87,759 to $141,000 and a nearly 78 percent increase in the attorney general's salary from $73,132 to $130,000. It also approved a 64 percent jump for the secretary of state from $54,848 to $90,000. Auditor, land commissioner and treasurer would see nearly 55 percent increases from $54,848 to $85,000 under the panel's proposals.

The board also voted to freeze the lieutenant governor's salary at $42,315 and to raise judicial salaries by at least 11.3 percent.

The judicial salary recommendations were: $180,000 for the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, $166,500 for other high court justices, $164,000 for the Court of Appeals chief judge, $161,500 for other Court of Appeals judges, $160,000 for circuit judges and $140,000 for district judges.

Circuit judges would see the biggest bump under the proposal, an increase of about 14 percent from the $140,372 they currently make.

Commission Vice Chairman Chuck Banks suggested they be paid nearly what appeals judges make because the latter don't have the "same sense of day in, day out responsibilities" as circuit judges.

The panel will meet again Monday, when it could still change the proposed salary amounts before approving them for an initial review. A comment period will follow, with a public hearing set March 2 and a final decision due at a March 5 meeting.

The legislator figures also represented a steep increase from the $25,000 and $30,000 floated earlier in the week and supported then by a majority of the seven-member panel.

But Friday's decision came after the panel recommended to eliminate office expense reimbursement, which had been available up to $14,400 a year, for all legislators except for committee and subcommittee chairmen. That figure was then considered as the members traded proposals for legislative salaries.

In a letter to the panel, House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, and Senate President Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, vowed that they would follow through on the recommendation to eliminate the office expenses if the panel included that in the salaries.

Commissioner Stuart Hill said he would not support the higher salary if that change weren't ultimately made.

"I don't think any of us would," added commissioner Stephen Tipton.

The panel also Friday voted to recommend no changes to legislator per diem and mileage.

Salary increases passed by the Independent Citizens Commission.

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