LITTLE ROCK — A state panel gave final approval Tuesday to a 2 percent salary increase for legislators, judges, prosecuting attorneys and all but one of Arkansas’ constitutional officers.
The Independent Citizens Commission excluded the lieutenant governor from the otherwise across-the-board pay raise, which it gave preliminary approval to last week. Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin previously told the commission in a letter he opposed a salary increase and would not accept one if the panel approved it.
A spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin said Tuesday that Martin will not accept the raise and instead will donate it toward the purchase of new election equipment. Martin did not ask the commission in advance to exclude him.
The commission was created under a constitutional amendment voters approved in 2014. Previously, salaries of the state’s top elected officials were set in the state constitution and the Legislature had authority to make cost-of-living adjustments.
The panel gave elected officials a substantial pay increase in 2015 but did not approve any raises last year.
The commission voted 4-0 Tuesday, with three members absent, to approve a motion by Commissioner Mitch Berry of Little Rock to approve the salary adjustment and exempt Griffin from it.
Commissioner Chuck Banks of Little Rock said of Griffin, “We don’t need to force a raise on an office that the head seems to think is not necessary.”
Griffin’s exclusion from the pay boost means his salary will remain at $42,315. He was out of the state on military business Tuesday, but he sent a letter to the commission thanking it for maintaining his salary at the current level.
The commission’s vote came after Banks read a letter from Senate Minority Leader Kieth Ingram, D-West Memphis. Ingram said in the letter he was concerned about the possibility of the part-time Legislature evolving into a Legislature of full-time politicians and about the ability of the state to afford the pay boost.
“Considering the fragile status of the state’s budget, the governor has already cut the last two months’ budget by $70 million and next year’s budget by $43 million. I would ask that you postpone any raises for the coming year,” Ingram said in the letter.
Berry noted that the commission’s process is outside of the normal state budget process.
Commissioner Barbara Graves of Little Rock said she was aware that the public perceives the job of a legislator to be part-time, but she said House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, and Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, told the panel that “they are never off duty. They go out to eat, they’re on duty.”
“I think it’s deserved by everybody equally at this time. We took no action last year, and this is just a basic cost-of-living increase,” she said.
The panel also heard from John Kelly of Little Rock, a board member of the American Foundation for Judicial Accountability, which asks lawyers and litigants to rate judges before whom they have appeared. Kelly said he did not have a position on the 2 percent raise but suggested that in the future the commission consider basing judges’ pay on performance.
Chairman Larry Ross of Sherwood told reporters after the meeting that in light of some state employees receiving raises of 1 percent and some receiving more, the 2 percent adjustment for top elected officials seemed fair.
“With the facts that we had as a commission, I think we made the most reasonable and fair adjustment to the offices in the executive branch, as well as the other two, judicial and legislative,” he said.
The Arkansas Supreme Court previously asked the commission to approve an 11 percent raise for Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges, but panel members said last week they thought that would be excessive.