BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE NATE BELL –
Arkansas politicos and media outlets regularly highlight the differences between the policy positions of liberals and conservatives. Those disagreements certainly do exist, but opportunities for those on both sides to simultaneously achieve their objectives also exist.
Conservatives have long campaigned for more efficient, effective and accountable state government. Liberals have historically led the push for higher state employee pay and benefits. Policy makers from both points of view have a fantastic opportunity to come together and facilitate our state government acheiving both goals.
Several years ago, I began comparing the public employment statistics of Arkansas and other states with similar populations. In recent years I have compiled and studied data from the US Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics etc., about state employment in Arkansas, Kansas, Utah and Iowa.
Due to space limitations, I’ll focus on the Kansas comparison today. Kansas is home to 2.85 million people and Arkansas is home to 2.91 million people. Kansas is a larger state in terms of land area with 82,278 square miles of land area vs. 53,178 square miles in Arkansas. I began to study the census data of both states after noticing that Kansas has nearly 20,000 fewer state employees than the state of Arkansas (2010 numbers) yet seems to function well. Based on the most recent data available their annual state payroll is nearly $660,000,000 less than ours yet their average state employee earns 10% more (Iowa public employees earn approx. 40% more) than the average Arkansas state employee. The costs associated with providing office space, computers, vehicles etc., are not included in these payroll numbers. These costs add approximately another 25% to the total cost indicating a total cost differential near $825,000,000. Some of the comparison data is available at these links:
The bottom line is that Arkansas has nearly 44% more people on payroll than Kansas, pays them less but spends substantially more tax dollars in the process. This pattern was repeated in each of the states I studied.
Arkansas has many dedicated state employees who work very hard and who strive for excellence and efficiency. I believe these great people should be well paid and I believe we can accomplish this by paying fewer people more money. This will result in a more stable and satisfied workforce and simultaneously result in more efficient use of taxpayer funds.
I don’t believe there’s any “magic bullet” piece of legislation that can make this happen. Achieving higher compensation, a more efficient workforce and taxpayer savings will require a cooperative effort between the Governor’s office, state employees and the legislature. With a consistent cooperative effort, we can achieve these objectives within 8-10 years without layoffs or other RIFFs.
Let’s work together to make Arkansas state government the model of efficiency and performance that other states will seek to replicate.
We can do it!