- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Members of a newly formed panel reviewing Arkansas elected officials’ salaries said Thursday their initial report likely won’t say whether a pay hike is needed.

The Independent Citizens Commission held its first meeting since voters approved the panel as part of a constitutional amendment overhauling the state’s ethics restrictions and easing term limits for lawmakers. The commission is charged with reviewing and adjusting salaries for Arkansas’ constitutional officers, legislators and judges.

Those salaries had previously been set by the constitution, but legislators could made cost-of-living adjustments.

Larry Ross, a Sherwood consultant who was elected the commission’s chairman, said the commission’s initial review due on Feb. 2 won’t likely include a decision on whether to increase the elected officials’ pay. The panel is also required to issue recommendations on the amount lawmakers can claim for mileage, per diem and office expense reimbursements.

“We’ll gather the data and we’ll see where the data leads us,” Ross told reporters.



Supporters of the amendment argued the independent commission was needed to give a comprehensive look at officials’ salaries, which they argue pale in comparison to other states.

The amendment approved by voters requires the panel to conduct its initial review within 90 days of the measure’s effective date, which was Nov. 5, but doesn’t spell out whether that review must include proposed adjustments to salaries. The attorney general’s office told the panel the amendment doesn’t define what is included in the initial review.

Chuck Banks, a former federal prosecutor who was elected the commission’s vice chairman, said not including salary decisions in the initial report will give the panel some breathing room as it weighs whether to give officials a pay hike.

“It would be to me almost unrealistic to think we can get all that done and do it all in a thorough, comprehensive, transparent manner,” Banks told reporters. “That’s what’s required of us by the constitution.”

The panel planned to meet again on Dec. 30.

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

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