When you vote on whether to raise your own salary, it’s always a tough vote. (Although for some people, I guess it would be the easiest vote in the world.) Last week, we passed HB 1061 out of the state House of Representatives, as 95 of 100 legislators voted to (among other things) raise their own pay 3.8 percent.
In fairness, the bill wasn’t completely self-interested. The case can be made that legislators deserve a cost-of-living raise as much as anyone else, and the bill provided for this kind of salary increase for legislative, judicial and executive branch employees (in addition, it gave prosecutors an 8 percent pay bump). Furthermore, the state constitution is typically understood to require that we pass a bill that pays for constitutional offices first before we enact any other appropriation measure.
What we could have done — and probably what we should have done — was to pass the appropriations bill without any salary increase. We could have put off the increase until later; there is some question as to whether we will be giving all state employees an upward salary adjustment for inflation this year, and it is embarrassing (to say the least) for legislators to benefit themselves without benefiting other state employees. Legislators passed a similarly lopsided raise four years ago, a decision not universally popular with other state employees.
I think the legislators who made the right decision were the ones who didn’t vote for the pay increase. These include (along with me) Reps. Duncan Baird, Ed Garner, Clark Hall and Keith Ingram, as well as Sens. Cecile Bledsoe, Steve Bryles, Paul Miller, Tracy Steele and Ruth Whitaker.
Gov. Mike Beebe also deserves credit: he announced late Friday that he wouldn’t accept a pay increase because of “tough economic conditions.” I think perhaps this is the right conclusion for the wrong reasons. I will look into the likelihood Monday that the legislature is going to repeat its bad decision of four years ago to give salary increases to some state employees and not others. If that’s repeated, I will – like the Governor – decline a pay increase.