Arkansas legislators are compensated in three ways. First, they receive a salary of $15,869, as defined by Amendment 70 to the Arkansas state constitution, approved by the people of Arkansas in the 1992 election. The amendment provides for cost of living raises to legislative salaries. A typical legislative session lasts 60 days and a budget session lasts 30 days. Although the legislature may vote to extend sessions, those extensions are seldom more than a few days. As our legislators are in active session only an average of 6-8 weeks per year, their salary translates to $2,644.83 per week.
In addition to their salaries, legislators are entitled to mileage expense reimbursement and a per diem,(basic living expenses for the days they spend in session in Little Rock)following federal guidelines and standards. It is reasonable and fair for our lawmakers to be reimbursed for legitimate travel, lodging, and meal expenses they incur related to doing their duty. There are, however, concerns about specific practices that appear to provide “reimbursements” for expenses that are not legitimate or legal. In other words, it looks like some of our legislators are getting “income” from expenses!
One practice of concern is an option given to our legislators allowing them to forego mileage and per diem reimbursement and instead accept a flat expense payment of $10,200 per year. Normally, a legislator is due mileage reimbursement at a standard per-mile rate for the actual mileage of trips back and forth to the Capitol during legislative or budget sessions, as well as any attended special sessions or committee meetings throughout the year. Legislators who travel from out of town use per diem funds for a hotel room or apartment during the session, and they can recover costs of meals. That is, of course perfectly fair and reasonable, as they should be reimbursed for real out-of-pocket expenses involved in doing our business. But if a legislator lives in Little Rock or in another town near the Capitol, think about what that extra $10,200 per year represents. As they live near the Capitol, they can stay at home and don’t have the expense of a hotel. And as they likely drive only a short distance, they are getting a lot of “gas money” that they probably don’t actually use. So the question becomes, is this an expense reimbursement, or is it income to the legislator? It’s income, of course, because it isn’t “reimbursing” an out-of-pocket expense! And the constitution prohibits any state income to our legislators other than their salary. Taking reimbursements for other than actual out-of-pocket expenses is an abuse and indicates a huge problem!
The information you will read on our website focuses mostly, however, on a 3rd category of compensation. A legislator is appropriately entitled to reimbursement for miscellaneous expenses incurred in the normal duties of the job. Things such as phone bills, postage, copies and typical office supplies are covered here. The law sets a maximum of $14,400 per year for these expenses (the maximum amount is higher for those in positions of leadership). The vast majority of Arkansas legislators are billing for the maximum amount twelve months of the year, regardless of whether they are in active session. Think about that: The exact same amount–$1200 a month–of “expenses” every single month, including those months the legislature is not even in session! $1200 a month for a phone, envelopes, and stamps!
And those who have the option to request a higher amount of “reimbursement” due to holding a position of leadership not surprisingly draw that maximum amount, month in and month out, whether they are in session or not.
And note that no detail-level receipts are required for these supposed phone bills, office supplies, or any other items in this category. While most of us citizens would have to produce such receipts for reimbursement in our employment, our legislators apparently do not. But note that by state law EXPENSE REIMBURSEMENTS BY OUR LEGISLATORS MUST COMPLY WITH INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE REQUIREMENTS. But as you can see, they do not. But they are paid anyway.
And think about this: Many legislators have both opted out of mileage and per diem (and take the flat rate of $10,200 per year) AND are claiming the full $14,400 a year in “office expense reimbursements.” They are taking in as much as an additional $24,600 per year in “expense reimbursements,” while they are constitutionally limited to state income of $15,869. (And remember, that is for six weeks of being in session.)
How can this be? If you would like to understand more about the history of this issue, click here. To delve further into the problems with the legislative expense reimbursements, check out the page titled Practices.