This week, the Arkansas Legislature began the 88th General Assembly. It seems to have been a quiet week: the most notable event (before Thursday) was probably Rep. Clark Hall’s prohibition of cell phone use during State Agencies Committee meetings.
However, there is some big news that emerged out of the Arkansas House Thursday afternoon, just before legislators broke session for the weekend.
The news surrounds HB 1063, the 2011-2012 General Appropriations Act. The bill includes a raise of nearly $500,000 for the state judiciary.
On Wednesday, the bill passed a voice vote in the Joint Budget Committee & the bill was sent to the House floor for their approval. “All indications were that that bill would pass the legislature easily,” according to Freshman State Representative David Meeks (R-Conway). But on Thursday, the House cast a voice vote on a motion by Kathy Webb (D-Little Rock) to send the bill back to committee with the recommendation that the pay increase be removed. The motion carried with no voiced opposition.
What caused such an abrupt change in direction?
Wednesday afternoon, after the appropriations bill left committee, Faulkner County TEA Party leader David Crow reportedly began approaching legislators, asking why there was not more opposition to the bill, reminding them of the statement made in the November elections, etc.
In a Facebook Note late Thursday night, Crow said the movement against the pay raises started because one member attended the Joint Budget meeting, learned of the raises and then began challenging TEA Party groups across the state to call their representatives in opposition.
By Wednesday afternoon, Meeks said the phone began to ring: “I received several calls from TEA Party members in my district who had concerns about the raises.”
By mid-day Thursday, party leaders indicated to members that the bill needed to go back to committee in order for the pay increases to be removed. It appears that the $483,889 pay raise will be cut from the bill before it returns to the floor for final passage, saving taxpayers half of a million dollars.
Granted, it is highly unlikely that any lawmaker on either side of the aisle would be willing to expend much effort to save the raises, given the economic/political climates & the fact that the raises do not apply to the legislature. But do not underestimate the influence of the TEA Party & attentive constituents in this process. The bill, raises & all, could have easily passed both chambers on Thursday had there been no vocal opposition.
This development not only shows the direct impact that the TEA Party is having over specific legislation, but the overall impact the group is having in changing the political culture of this state. Their work to put commonsense candidates in office in 2010 is the real reason for their success now–no number of phone calls would have changed the outcome of HB 1063 three or four years ago. Not only was there no watchdog group present, there were just simply too few commonsense-minded legislators who were actually willing to listen to their constituents. As evidenced by the events of this past week, that is no longer the case. Legislators on both side of the aisle have seen the political & the electoral havoc that the TEA Party can wreak.
Taxpayers should be grateful & the political establishment should be leery–the TEA Party in Arkansas is watching; willing to take you to task, now & in November 2012.
(The Joint Budget Committee will reconvene on Wednesday & consider the recommendation to remove the pay increases.)
The Arkansas Patriot is a conservative organization dedicated to equipping citizens with the truth, insuring transparent government, and encouraging citizens to question their government boldly. Contact The Patriot at firstname.lastname@example.org