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The Not-So-Independent Citizens Committee

Updated: Apr 13

Over the weekend, Republicans at their party convention voted to oppose an upcoming “ethics reform” ballot measure in 2014 that waters down term limits for state legislators. Here is the report from the AP:

Arkansas Republicans have voted to oppose a ballot measure that would loosen the state’s term limits and tighten state ethics laws. Delegates at the state GOP’s convention on Saturday approved a resolution opposing the proposed constitutional amendment appearing on the November ballot. The resolution cited concerns a part of the proposal to set a 16-year limit on serving in the Legislature. House members are currently restricted to serving three two-year terms, and senators are limited to two four-year terms. The amendment also includes proposals to prohibit most lobbyist gifts to elected officials and prohibit corporate campaign contributions. The resolution approved Saturday doesn’t cite those provisions.

Conduit For Action’s David Ferguson wrote about this ballot measure a couple of months ago here, here and here. People will disagree about whether term limits in the Arkansas Legislature should be extended; however, the same ballot measure also changes how legislative pay increases are determined. Ferguson says:

Currently, legislators have to vote to approve their cost-of-living increase.  Even though the increases are small, the public watches.  This proposal takes the burden and responsibility off of the legislators and shifts it to a politically appointed committee. The proposal removes the current restriction that limits increases to only a cost-of-living adjustment based on the Consumer Price Index.  Under the proposal there is no limit on the initial salary change!  After the change in the first year, future changes are limited to 15% up or down.  This still allows a big increase each year.  But wait it gets worse.  The 15% limit could be changed or eliminated by a 2/3rds vote of the legislature.  More about that below. The proposal creates an “Independent Citizens Committee” to set salaries.  Using the words “independent” and “citizens” makes it sound wonderful but would it sound wonderful if you described it as the “Committee Appointed by the Politicians Whose Salaries Are Being Set”? Yes, the committee is made up of political appointees.  The 7 member committee would be made up by: 2 people appointed by the Governor; 2 people appointed by the Speaker of the House; 2 people appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and 1 person appointed by the Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. Gee, do you suppose the committee members might look favorably on salary requests by the people who appointed them?

You really have to wonder if the legislative gurus who wrote this ballot measure had the self-awareness to chuckle a little at the “Independent Citizens Committee” name. We’ll just have to wait until November to see if voters catch on to the fact that the “Independent Citizens Committee” is a joke, and it’s the public that’s the punchline.

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