The co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee said Tuesday that Arkansas lawmakers may halt or limit a proposed pay hike for state workers after stalling legislation that would have given a similar raise for judges and prosecutors.

The co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee said Tuesday that Arkansas lawmakers may halt or limit a proposed pay hike for state workers after stalling legislation that would have given a similar raise for judges and prosecutors.
Sen. Gilbert Baker, co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, said lawmakers may nix or limit the 1.86-percent cost-of-living raise that’s included in Gov. Mike Beebe’s budget for the year that begins July 1. The proposed pay raise would cost about $23 million.
“I’m very much in favor of looking at that and whether we are able to just increase pay at the lowest levels and not the higher levels. I’m going to have my staff take a look at that and see how that $23 million really breaks out,” Baker, R-Conway, told reporters on Wednesday.
Baker’s comments are the latest sign that Republicans are intent on trying to reduce or control spending after making their biggest gains in the majority-Democrat Legislature in the November election. Concerns in the House over 1.86-percent pay raises for judges and prosecutors stalled the General Appropriation bill, which heads back to the Joint Budget Committee on Wednesday.
Baker said he expected the judge and prosecutor raises — which cost about $475,000 — to be removed from the legislation, which sets funding levels for the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Lawmakers and constitutional officers are not getting a raise in the bill.
“I think this gives us a glimpse into this Legislature really trying to hold the line on spending,” Baker said.
Rep. Kathy Webb, co-chairman of the budget panel, said it’s premature to discuss nixing the pay raises for other state employees but said she expected “robust debate” when the issue comes up.
“While the judges and some of those other folks are earning salaries that are a lot greater than the average Arkansan, a lot of the state employees are not,” said Webb, D-Little Rock.
Beebe’s office said he was open to hearing other suggestions, but repeated his support for the raise.
“You’re talking about a small adjustment tied to inflation that’s going to go to thousands of Arkansas families who are then going to turn around and put that money back in the economy,” Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said.
Tuesday marked the start of the second week of the Legislative session, which began Jan. 10.
Lawmakers also began discussing congressional redistricting. An official with the secretary of state’s office told the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee that it would be difficult for the state to redraw congressional boundaries without breaking up counties between districts.
Arkansas is one of three states that do not split counties inside of congressional districts. Lawmakers must keep the district populations relatively equal when they redraw the districts using the latest Census figures.
“The math just doesn’t work this time,” A.J. Kelly, deputy director of the secretary of state’s office.
The Legislature is in charge of congressional redistricting, while the Board of Apportionment — consisting of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state — redraws legislative boundaries. The constitution requires the board to complete legislative redistricting on or before Feb. 1, but final Census numbers on state population won’t be released until late February.
The board isn’t expected to finalize the legislative redistricting plan until the fall, but Baker said he thinks legislative redistricting should occur sooner.
“I would like to see us more in line with the constitutional mandate of Feb. 1. How we get there, there’s a lot of different ways to proceed,” Baker said.
In other business, the House Revenue and Taxation Committee and the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee voted Tuesday to broadcast their proceedings live online, starting with their next meetings.
Since the previous House Speaker and House Management Committee decided to shell out more than $375,000 to equip four committee rooms with cameras and hardware, some lawmakers have argued against airing the meetings because the technology is not available in all committee rooms.
“I would be for this if it was set up in every committee room that we have here, but it is not set up in every committee room,” Rep. Mike Patterson, D-Piggott, told the Revenue and Taxation Committee.
Others, including Rep. Andy Mayberry, say live-streaming is a means to increase transparency.
“This is not a situation where we’re comparing and contrasting what’s going on in the Senate or in other committee rooms. We’re just allowing the people of the state of Arkansas a better chance to see what’s going on with their state government,” said Mayberry, R-Hensley.
Rep. Mark Biviano, R-Searcy, sits on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee and says lawmakers ought to take advantage of the cameras and gadgets that the House installed.
“We’ve already got the technology in place,” Biviano said. “We need to employ it. We need to embrace it and use it whenever we can.”
Other House committees are due to discuss live-streaming later this week. The Senate does not broadcast committee meetings.