Former attorney general defends increased employee salaries



(The Center Square) – Audit findings showing former attorney general Leslie Rutledge paid staff more than what was appropriated by the Legislature is the result of differing legal opinions, Rutledge told The Center Square.

Arkansas Legislative Audit noted the excess payments during Rutledge’s tenure for the second year in a row. She is now the state’s lieutenant governor.

The annual financial report for the year that ended June 31, 2021, said 29 employees were overpaid the line-item salary appropriation by a total of $64,640. An audit released last week for the year ending June 20, 2022, showed 26 employees received more than the line-item salary appropriation by $69,055.

Rutledge said constitutional officers weren’t subject to the Uniform Classification and Compensation Act, which prohibits state officials from paying employees more than the Legislature authorizes.

“While I greatly respect the role of legislative audit, this issue was a result of differing legal opinions between our attorneys and theirs,” said Rutledge in a statement to The Center Square. “The Attorney General’s Office never came close to exceeding the overall salary appropriation during my tenure.”

Current Attorney General Tim Griffin disagreed in his response to the audit, saying the overpayment violated the state’s constitution.

“I have not authorized and will not authorize payments to employees in excess of their line-item salary appropriation,” Griffin said.

It’s the second time Griffin has commented on the issue. Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, requested an opinion from Griffin earlier this year in response to the audit for the year ending on June 30, 2021. Griffin said then that a state constitutional officer could not compensate an employee beyond the line-item appropriation.

“When the people of Arkansas ratified our current constitution, they chose to give the General Assembly the sole authority to set the number and salaries for all state employees-both collectively and individually,” Griffin said. “The alternative view is both contrary to law and leads to the absurd result that a single employee could be paid $1 million more than the employee’s line-item maximum as long as the sum of the remaining employees’ pay stayed within the constitutional office’s aggregate salary cap. This faulty interpretation would give constitutional officers unfettered discretion regarding compensation.”



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