- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An Arkansas panel reviewing elected officials’ pay will be limited in how much it can change salaries if those adjustments aren’t included in an initial review due next month, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s office said in an advisory opinion Monday.

In a non-binding legal opinion, McDaniel’s office wrote that the Independent Citizens Commission will be subject to a 15 percent cap on changing officials’ salaries if the adjustment isn’t included in the review due on Feb. 2. The commission was formed as part of a voter-approved constitutional amendment and is charged with reviewing and adjusting salaries for Arkansas’ legislators, constitutional officers and judges.

The opinion noted that the 15 percent cap is placed on any salary adjustments made after the panel issues its initial review, which is due within 90 days of the Nov. 5 effective date of the amendment. The commission is barred from lowering judges’ salaries.

“If the commission wants to adjust salaries and have that adjustment be free of the 15 percent cap, the commission must propose its adjustment(s) during the 90-day initial review period,” the opinion said. “Conversely, if the commission issues a ‘fact-finding report’ and postpones any action on salaries until after the first 90 days, then the salaries will continue at their current levels, and any eventual adjustment will be subject to the 15 percent cap.”

Members of the commission last month had floated the possibility of not including salary adjustments in its initial review.

Vice Chairman Chuck Banks said he hadn’t read McDaniel’s opinion but that it could create pressure for the commission.

“We’ll just have to revisit it as a commission as a whole,” he said.

Sen. Jon Woods, who co-sponsored the amendment creating the commission, requested the advisory opinion and said the amendment’s intention had been for the salary adjustments to be included in the initial review. He noted the review would trigger a period for the public to comment on proposed changes.

“They have to have a starting point done by Feb. 2,” said Woods, R-Springdale.

The panel was part of an amendment voters approved that imposed new ethics rules on elected officials and eased legislative term limits. The officials’ salaries had previously been set by the constitution, which allowed the Legislature to make cost-of-living adjustments.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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