- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 14, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas panel reviewing whether to give raises to elected officials chose five states - Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee - as a benchmark for its own closely watched recommendations.

Those states all pay their legislators more than Arkansas, where elected members of the House and Senate collect $15,869 a year. The governors and attorneys general of those states also make more than in Arkansas.

Members of the Independent Citizens Commission picked those states due to their legislatures’ similarities to Arkansas and in order to simplify their research with a Feb. 2 deadline to decide where to set salaries for top state officials, lawmakers and judges.

Some members of the commission, created by a voter-approved constitutional amendment in November, indicated they supported raising the annual salaries of legislators, while also recommending that the Legislature tighten its use of per diem payments for food and other expenses.

Little Rock lawyer Chuck Banks, the commission’s vice chairman, said he supported finding a legislator’s salary that doesn’t incite public anger or is “so high as to stop this from being a part-time citizens’ legislature.”

Bettina Brownstein of the Arkansas Public Law Center testified that she supported raising salaries, but also studying what she called an abuse of the per diem reimbursements.

“I think it’s a way to augment salary because they’re not, in my view, paid adequately,” she said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, legislators in Oklahoma make $38,400 a year. Annual salaries are $35,915 in Missouri, $25,000 in Iowa, $22,800 in Louisiana and $20,203 in Tennessee, according to the conference.

The governors and attorneys general of all five states make more than $100,000 a year. Arkansas’ governor makes $86,890 annually and its attorney general makes $72,408.

The citizens commission also heard from Circuit Judge Shawn Womack, who argued that judicial salaries should be raised, though he did not make a recommendation for how much.

State circuit judges make $140,372 annually, with slightly increased figures for judges on the Arkansas Supreme Court and Arkansas Court of Appeals.

But Womack argued judges’ salaries should be compared to top lawyers employed elsewhere in state government, including at the University of Arkansas law school.

“Not only are we professionals, but as judges, in theory, you should be at the top of your profession,” he said.

The commission next meets Friday.


Follow Nomaan Merchant on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/nomaanmerchant.

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