LITTLE ROCK — A state panel gave preliminary approval Tuesday to an across-the-board pay raise of 2 percent for elected officials, rejecting a request from the Arkansas Supreme Court for an 11 percent salary boost.
The Independent Citizens Commission, which sets the salaries of constitutional officers, legislators, judges and prosecuting attorneys, is scheduled to take a final vote on the proposal next Tuesday. Members of the public are invited to offer comments at that meeting or online at citizenscommission.ar.gov, the panel said.
The commission was created under a constitutional amendment voters approved in 2014. Previously, elected officials’ salaries were set in the state constitution and the Legislature had authority to make cost-of-living adjustments.
The panel approved significant pay raises in 2015 but declined to boost salaries last year. Commissioner Mitch Berry of Little Rock said during Tuesday’s meeting he did not want to keep salaries flat for another year.
“I think this is something we ought to revisit every year so that we don’t have to make big jumps from time to time,” he said.
Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Kemp asked the commission to give an 11 percent raise to the members of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals and a 2 percent raise to everyone else.
Under that proposal, the Supreme Court chief justice’s annual salary would go from from $180,000 to $199,800, the Supreme Court justices’ pay would go from from $166,500 to $184,815, the Court of Appeals chief judge’s pay would go from $164,000 to $167,280, and the Court of Appeals judges’ pay would go from $161,500 to $164,730.
Kemp told the panel that in 2016, Supreme Court justices in Tennessee, Missouri and Iowa all made higher salaries than Arkansas Supreme Court justices despite issuing fewer opinions.
Several commissioners said they believed that with inflation at 2 percent, a 2 percent raise for all seemed fair.
“There’s nobody here that respects the judiciary more than I do,” said Vice Chairman Chuck Banks of Little Rock, but he added, “I’m very concerned about 11 percent. I would be disingenuous if I didn’t say that. While we do have a good economic environment, the size and amount of that increase gives me serious pause.”
A motion to propose a 2 percent across-the-board increase passed 4-0. Three members of the 7-member panel were absent.
Kemp told reporters after the meeting, “I’m glad to get an increase.”
He said the Supreme Court likely would try again with its proposal next year.