Arkansas’ Ethics Problem Is A Constitutional Problem

There’s been a lot of talk amongst Arkansas bloggers & politicos about the significance of the legislative expense reimbursement issue.  I don’t think the issue is going to be an issue at all, even though it probably should be.

Arkansas legislators receive a salary of $15,869 per year.  The constitution sets this number and forbids other compensation, but they can be reimbursed for expenses.  Many take $10,200 for things like apartments & gas.  While there has been some controversy surrounding that aspect in the past, we’re going to ignore it for brevity’s sake.

Currently, legislators are also able to be reimbursed for expenses such as paper, postage, office space, etc.  Most legislators simply submit a bill, often from their own consulting firm or from their own spouse, with a very “well-rounded” number and zero documentation.  This is clearly problematic.

Why are so many good people tempted to report their expenses dishonestly?  Because $15,869 isn’t enough.  Folks are right to say that legislators know the pay when they run for the office and should be honest.  I agree with that.  It’s clearly unethical.  I’m NOT making excuses for them.  That isn’t the point of this post.

Legislators attend dozens of meetings throughout the year in addition to time spent at work while the Legislature is in session.  They definitely can’t work a good deal of the year to make money for their families.

Let’s make some assumptions.  Let us assume that a legislator works 7 out of 24 months, or 30% of their time.  Now let’s say that the person makes $75,000 per year at their “day job” and their employer is willing to turn loose of them without pay.  That legislator’s budget is short, on average, about $6,631 per year.

The result?  We get legislators who fit into three groups:

  • Those who don’t generally have the education to make more than about $55,000-60,000 per year (this is large percentage).
  • Retired persons.
  • Those who are independently wealthy.

I’ve nothing against any of these groups of legislators, but we’ve excluded a very specific group of people: young and middle-aged professionals who must still work for a living but are rising quickly and understand business and technology.

The constitution eliminates the legislature as a possibility for the vast majority of the most sought-after pool of workers in the state.  It also eliminates most people raising a family, a group of people uniquely positioned to approach legislative work with both ideological vigor as well as current, up-to-date, real world experience.

I want brilliant doctors, engineers, construction guys, IT geeks and yes, even lawyers, who are in their prime and ready to do the people’s work.  Our constitution forbids this unless that person is willing to take an exceptional, life-altering hit to their financial well-being.

Until we fix our constitutional problem, don’t expect a fix for the ethics problem.

Nicholas Stehle is a contributor to The Arkansas Patriot and serves on the Board of Directors of Arkansas Carry.  He is a concealed carry instructor in the state of Arkansas and an advocate for multiple conservative causes.  Check out his tweets and his blog, A New Approach.



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