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Arkansas' commission that sets the salaries of elected state officials decided Monday to delay until Oct. 30 proposing pay increases because its members want to make comparisons with the pay of similar positions in five other states.

The five states are Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee. In 2015, the commission also used these states for salary comparisons.

The Independent Citizens Commission spent most of its hourlong meeting focused on the pay of Arkansas Supreme Court justices, Arkansas Court of Appeals judges and circuit judges.

The commission was created under Amendment 94 to the Arkansas Constitution. Voters approved the amendment in November 2014. The state Legislature previously set the salaries of constitutional officers, lawmakers and the judicial branch.

Commission Chairman Chuck Banks of Little Rock, who is an attorney, said, "No one from the Legislature has come over and said these salaries are too high, they are too low.

"There is nothing input here to suggest there is any more than three entities that are really requiring serious analysis," he said.

Commissioner Annabelle Imber Tuck said the commission already has information comparing judges' salaries with those in other states, and the prosecuting attorneys' salaries are linked to the judges' salaries.

"Now if you want to go on to constitutional officers and General Assembly members ... since they didn't come and advocate for a change, I guess I am assuming they're fine with what was set previously," she said

"Obviously, I come from a world of the judiciary, where ... silence is golden," said Imber Tuck, a retired justice. "If you don't come and speak for yourself and say you want something different, then I'm going to make the assumption you are fine with what has been in the past and whatever we do for a merit raise or whatever you want to call that."

Commissioner Tommy May of Pine Bluff said that if lawmakers and constitutional officers "don't come and advocate for a pay increase," it's still the commission's responsibility to decide whether to grant them raises this year. He worries that otherwise, "we'll be playing catch-up" a few years from now.

Last year, the commission approved 3% raises for all officials, totaling about $1.23 million.

In fiscal 2020, which started July 1, executive-branch agencies were authorized to spend 2.4% more on performance-based salaries for their employees.

Commissioner Nathan Evers of El Dorado said, "As far as the constitutional officers are concerned, if the governor decided that 2.4% [more funds for granting merit pay raises] was fair for various agencies, then I think that is a reasonable amount for us to use to consider the adjustments of other salaries that we are responsible for, other than the justices and the judges."

Legislators make $41,393 a year, while the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore are paid $47,277 a year.

The constitutional officers' salaries are: governor, $148,134; lieutenant governor, $43,584; attorney general, $136,578; secretary of state, $94,554; and treasurer, auditor and land commissioner, $89,301. The lieutenant governor is considered a part-time position.

In May, the Arkansas Judicial Council -- consisting of all 121 circuit judges, 12 Court of Appeals judges, seven Supreme Court justices and retired judges -- asked the commission to approve 3% salary increases.

In addition, Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Kemp sought $5,000 raises for associate justices to help put distance between their pay and that of lower court judges.

Associate justices are paid $174,924 a year; the chief justice makes $189,108 a year. The Court of Appeals' judges are paid $169,671 a year; the chief judge makes $172,298 a year. Circuit judges' pay is $168,096 a year.

The annual pay for associate justices is ranked 30th in the nation, while the salary of appeals judges is 20th in the nation and the pay for circuit judges is 21st in the nation as of July 1, according to the National Center for State Courts, Kemp told the commission.

Rita Gruber, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, said Monday, "Most states have a greater spread between what the salary is for each level of the judiciary, whereas we have less of that in Arkansas, which was one of the issues that our court had earlier with Judicial Council."

At one point, Imber Tuck said, "If you are making [$168,096] as a trial judge and you'll only make [$169,671] as a Court of Appeals judge, what is the impetus, other than status?"

In May, the Arkansas District Judges Council requested the same percentage pay raise as all state employees. District judges are paid $147,084 a year.

Prosecutor Coordinator Bob McMahon, representing the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association, told the commission, "We are not here making a specific proposal for a particular percentage or anything like that. We are perfectly fine with whatever decision is made by the commission and applying that to the prosecutors as well as judges."

The state has 28 elected prosecutors and 25 of them are considered to be Division A prosecutors, meaning they are prohibited from having a private practice. Three of them are considered to be Division B prosecutors, which allows them to have a private practice, said McMahon. Division A prosecutors are paid $159,691 a year. Division B prosecutors make $135,737 a year.

The Independent Citizens Commission also includes Phillip Fletcher of Bentonville, Jonathan Rogers of North Little Rock and Jan Zimmerman of Little Rock.

Metro on 09/10/2019

Print Headline: Panel delays state officials' pay proposals

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