LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Arkansas lawmakers voted unanimously to approve a budget bill without any raises on Monday after legislators’ complaints about doling out pay hikes in the current economic climate forced the Joint Budget Committee to nix a 1.86 percent proposed raise for prosecutors or judges.
The proposed General Appropriation Act sets funding for the executive, legislative and judicial branches. It’s the first appropriations bill that must be passed during the legislative session and it now heads to the Senate for a vote.
Rep. Kathy Webb, who co-chairs the Joint Budget Committee, says lawmakers on the committee agreed that it wasn’t an appropriate time to pass even cost of living adjustments for those employees.
"I’m glad that we got it behind us and I think that we’ll be taking a very close look at every appropriation bill," said Webb, D-Little Rock.
Sen. Gilbert Baker, the Republican co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, has said lawmakers may consider halting or limiting the 1.86 percent cost-of-living increase Gov. Mike Beebe has proposed for all state employees. The raise would cost the state about $23 million.
"I think it’ll be something that we’ll have a full debate in Joint Budget on," Webb said.
Meanwhile, Beebe’s sticking by his proposal.
"The average state employee deserves a cost of living increase in my opinion," the governor said Monday.
Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson also filed legislation that would require the Senate to broadcast its committee meetings online, following the lead of several committees in the House.
Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, said he didn’t know how much it would cost to equip Senate committee roams to broadcast online but said it would likely be comparable to what the House paid. The House last year spent $375,000 to equip four committee rooms with cameras and hardware, and several committees last week voted to begin broadcasting their meetings online.
Hutchinson said he understood the objections some senators may have that the Senate would lose some of its decorum by broadcasting online.
"I think that concern is outweighed by the public’s right to know," Hutchinson said. "Anything we can do to bring what’s happening in the Capitol to them is important."
Hutchinson said he would file a separate appropriation bill to pay for equipping the committee rooms if his proposal passes.