While the modern salary commission method of awarding the pay for Arkansas' elected officials has leveled the past several decades of salary inequity in elected office -- there still remains that pesky per diem and mileage factor that tends, at the outset, to look oh, so, bad.
But it all boils down to activity and committee assignments.
Just the elected officials who are willing, mostly in the non-session months of the term, to drive to Little Rock (or other places where hearings are held) will be reimbursed by the state for mileage and taking the days away from their businesses or vocations to conduct the state's business.
What this does is create a "gap" between those who serve and those who tend to only focus on their particular days down in Little Rock.
That "gap" also exists where lawmakers live.
For example those within 50 miles of the state capitol, are not paid mileage or per diem, unless they are traveling and serving away from their homes. For example a lawmaker with a Little Rock address will only be paid per diem if he or she is attending a meeting in Jonesboro or Fayetteville, more than 50 miles from their home.
All other are paid the 57.5 cents per mile while on state business. And the per diem (expenses while away from home) hovers around $200 a day.
Well, the big recipients of per diem and mileage expense monies for the previous year were revealed by the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration recently.
Benton County's State Representative Jim Dotson of Bentonville, again, drew the most in per diem expenses - $38,987. Dotson drew almost as much per diem as he did state salary - $39,399.84.
The region's top per diem drawing senator was state Senator Bob Ballinger of Hindsville - $32,254. He also drew nearly the same as his state salary of $39,399.84.
Breaking down the per diem and the legislators by county it looks like this:
State Senator Jim Hendren of Gravette who drew $23,734, ranked 17th out of the 35 members of the state Senate.
State Senator Cecile Bledsoe of Rogers drew $26,818, ranking her 6th out of the 35 members of the state Senate.
State Senator Bart Hester of Cave Springs drew $22,566, ranking him 21st out of the 35 state senate members. Note that Hester still draws 47 cents per mile in mileage, the same as a rank-and-file state employee. He has refused the higher rate of 57.5 cents per mile that elected officials are allowed to draw on their personal vehicle.
State Senator Greg Leding of Fayetteville drew $23,662, ranking him 18th out of the 35 state Senators.
State Senator Lance Eads of Springdale, drew, $28,914 in per diem and expenses ranking him 4th out of the 35 senators.
State Senator Bob Ballinger of Hindsville, drew $32,254 in per diem and expenses ranking him No. 1 out of the 35 senators.
It also should be pointed out that often state Senator Jim Hendren flies his private plane to and from Little Rock, that mileage is different than driving along the paved roads, it is less, than car travel.
Also as pointed out Hester is not the only state Senator to take less than the 57.5 cents per mile, others such as state Senator Keith Ingraham of West Memphis, also draws the same 47 cents per mile as state employees.
Next Week: The state House of Representatives and the mileage and per diem expenses.
-- Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.
Editorial on 03/18/2020