2013 General AssemblyArkansas PoliticsEthics

Taxpayer-Funded Legislative Meal Plans: Another Possible Blessing From Issue 3

Independent Citizens CommitteeAfter Issue 3 passed in November, which banned lobbyists from paying for state legislators’ meals, I suspect some of our representatives were asking themselves: “Gee, who’s going to pick up the check now?” Today I attended a panel discussion on Issue 3 at the Clinton School of Public Service, which provided a possible answer to that question.
Scott Trotter, a local attorney who helped write Issue 3 and who currently serves as a kind of volunteer advisor to the misnamed Independent Citizens Committee, said during the panel discussion that one of his suggestions to the committee would be to make taxpayers pay for legislators’ meals in the future.
Trotter said at the panel:

I also put out there the idea that we ought to have a useful Capitol cafeteria, and to the extent that the lobbyists are not paying for breakfast and lunch (for legislators)…then the Salary Commission might want to consider if there is a way to facilitate the effective cafeteria by perhaps looking at the total package for legislators on their salaries…and perhaps having some sort of meal plan that the members could rely on to eat breakfast or lunch there — and that might help boost the (cafeteria) sales that are in decline, because the lobbyists are not paying for it anymore.

Perhaps a more outside-of-the-box idea is that legislators should pay for their own meals with their own money, but I guess anyone who proposes that would get accused of wanting legislators to go hungry. “Ethics reform” is expensive, I guess.
From what I heard at the panel, it sounds like legislators will be getting quite a bit more lunch money, in the form of a hefty salary increase, when the Salary Commission decides legislative pay early next year. Remember: in the first year the committee meets there will be no limit to the compensation increase voted on for legislators, constitutional officers, and judges.
State Sen. Jon Woods, an Issue 3 architect, also joined the panel to speak about the need for the Independent Citizens Committee.
Woods said:

The Salary Commission…it’s something I’ve been kicking around for awhile. I just saw a lot. You just see a lot when you’re down here. There were some things that I thought weren’t right. I thought a lot of lawmakers were put in bad situations. I saw some marriages fail. I saw some lawmakers destroy their credit. I’ve seen some bad behavior and we’ve all read about some of that in the paper.

We’ve had a lot of criticism, but I’m convinced the Salary Commission is a great idea and it’s something that’s needed to be done. I got the idea from Oregon. Oregon passed the law in 1983. They said, ‘The Legislature of Oregon is meeting too much. Lawmakers are sacrificing a lot. It’s putting a lot of stress on their home and family life. We’ve got to address this so they met and they corrected the salaries and they moved on.’”

Now, if all of these hard life experiences legislators are supposedly experiencing stem from the Legislature being not paid enough and “meeting too much,” a more conservative solution would be to have the legislature not meet so much, so as to give part-time legislators more time at their occupation. This would also give them more time to (for instance) get marriage counseling and read Dave Ramsey to get their credit score back in top-notch shape.
Indeed, the Legislature only met in session every two years until 2008, when legislators requested voters approve annual sessions via ballot measure.
Poor Jon Woods! What a painful ordeal it must be to serve in the Arkansas General Assembly. Somehow, Woods has — so far — survived this experience, even though by his account it has chewed up and spit out lesser men and women. Woods ran successfully for the legislature in 2006, 2008, and 2010 — most recently, he won his campaign for the state Senate in 2012. Perhaps in two years he will, once again, put aside his self-interest and submit himself once again for re-election to the punishing, self-destructive burden of service to the people of Arkansas. What an extraordinary man he must be to bear the weight of government work. (And don’t let the idea that Woods keeps on running for re-election convince you that things really haven’t been that bad for state legislators. As President Obama has warned us, one of our enemies is cynicism.)
I have a feeling there will be many more interesting items to cover regarding this issue in the coming months, but keep legislators’ meal insecurity and sub-par credit scores in your thoughts and prayers — until the Independent Citizens Committee addresses these pressing issues.

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One thought on “Taxpayer-Funded Legislative Meal Plans: Another Possible Blessing From Issue 3

  • Bob McCartney

    I was almost in tears, if it were me, I would take a job in the private sector. Wonder why so run for office and cry because the pay is too low. The ones whose marriage fail, maybe more scrutiny needs but on the Pols when they are in the local hangouts.


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