A commission charged with reviewing salaries and reimbursements for elected officials met Thursday for the first time and promised a cautious and deliberative approach.
Some members of the commission – authorized by voters in Issue 3, the ethics and term limits amendment - say its first report is unlikely to contain any salary recommendations for legislators, constitutional officers, or judges.
The newly-confirmed chair of the commission Larry Ross reacted to a question about whether he expects any salary or expense proposals in the initial review due February 2.
“Oh heavens no…right now we’re just trying to ascertain this information to be able to make a decision,” said Ross.
Vice Chair Chuck Banks said it’s important not to move too quickly and to keep the public included (commission staff said all information requested by the commission will be posted online and no executive session will be allowed) while considering changes to salaries and reimbursements for elected officials.
“From what I heard today I could see us taking six months, possibly even a full year,” said Banks.
Commission members stressed the importance of appearing independent - to the point of considering whether their website address should include the word “independent.” Members made their remarks on independence while some of those that appointed them – and whose salaries they will be adjusting – watched the proceedings. Banks acknowledges the role of legislators in forming the commission but said he has no preconceptions of what new salary levels should be.
“Parts of the system appear to be, at least from my perspective, the legislature’s telling us we need to help to fix something and we want some citizens to come in here and kind of help us along to fix it and set them right. That doesn’t necessarily mean everybody’s going up, or everybody’s staying the same, or everybody’s going down,” said Banks.
Arkansas’s legislators are among the lowest compensated in terms of salary-alone nationwide. The commission has no limits on their initial round of changes but in subsequent years changes are limited to 15 percent increments. The commission meets again on the 30th.