In his November 20, 2013 conference call with the staff at Legislative Audit, Lt. Gov. Mark Darr “stated that he views the position as part time.” While his statement was one of the more petulant phrasings, considering the context, this certainly isn’t the first time someone has suggested that the Office of the Lieutenant Governor is a part-time position, either.
And with good reason; it’s not like the job has a ton of duties:
- Preside over the Senate while it is in session. On the extremely rare occasion that there is a tie vote among the 35 Senators,[foot]While it is rare, Darr actually had to do this once last session. Man, what would we have done without him in office to handle that?[/foot] you have to cast the tie-breaking vote, so you probably want to avoid being visibly asleep or playing Candy Crush on your phone during debate. Then again, since no one I’ve asked can remember the Lt. Gov. actually having to break a tie, maybe a nap isn’t the end of the world.
- Act as Governor when the real Governor is absent from the state. Self-explanatory, though, as a general rule, you should probably not rush to put on your big boy pants and use signing a bill as political grandstanding when the Governor is in Washington D.C. on official business. Not that you can’t; you just shouldn’t.
- Don’t use your state-issued credit card for personal expenses. This should go without saying, but . . . well . . . .
- Don’t break IRS rules by reimbursing yourself for improper mileage. Related to the previous duty, this should also not need to be specified, but we’ll go ahead and list it since there seems to be some uncertainty about it.
And that’s it. That’s the entire job. So, in a vacuum, you can see why people might look at it as a part-time gig.
Looking just at the duties, however, misses the point. There is no provision in the law that actually says the job is part-time, no matter how limited his official duties are.[foot]There is only the lower salary, which isn’t even that low these days. It was generally half of what the Secretary of State, Treasurer, Auditor, and Land Commissioner made between 1947 and 1984, but was bumped to almost 80% of those officers’ salaries in 1992. If we agree that, generally speaking, the job of the State Treasurer is full time based on a $54,305/year salary, why would it make sense to act like the Lt. Governor is so part time that he can come and go as he pleases for $41,896/year?[/foot] The Lt. Governor makes $41,896 per year. If his actual work days are limited to the 120 or so days that the legislature is in session each year (plus a day or two where he gets to play Governor), the Lt. Governor would have an effective salary of nearly $128,000 per year.
Additionally, we’re talking about a constitutional office, not just a title for the person who is elected. If that person is only expected to be there part-time, because office is one of a part-time nature, why would that office need four full-time staff members? If there is work for them to perform, day in and day out, 52 weeks per year, then the office is not part-time by definition, and there should be work for the Lt. Governor as well. If there is not work for the Lt. Governor because there is enough staff to take care of 100% of the work, then we should cut one or more staff positions and actually have the elected officer do some of the day-to-day work of the office to which he was elected.
Along those same lines, if this really were a part-time office, you would expect that it would receive noticeably less money for operating expenses and travel costs than, say, the Land Commissioner, who everyone seems to agree is a full time office. Yet, instead, the Lt. Governor’s office gets $49,359 in operating expenses and $16,000 in travel expenses; the Land Commissioner receives $66,000 for operating and $10,000 for travel, despite having 45 employees to the Lt. Governor’s four.
In fact, if you buy the idea that the job is part-time, Mark Darr’s actions with respect to mileage are actually offensive. This is a state where the median household income is only $40,112. If he cannot or does not want to do the job, limited as it is, unless he can commute for free or receive extra perks, there are probably thousands of Arkansans making $25,000/year while working 40 hours or more per week who would trade places with him in a heartbeat.
All things considered, it seems clear that, whether he has anything to do while he’s there or not, the people of Arkansas elect a Lt. Governor with the expectation that he will be in Capitol year ’round, not merely when the Senate is in session. Indeed, perhaps the strongest argument against treating the Lt. Governor as a part-time position is the evidence that Mark Darr has already provided: it is a job that requires no special skills, no background in government, no extensive oversight of employees, and almost no understanding of state and federal laws and regulations.
Much like how Mark Darr’s lack of understanding about mileage reimbursements and use of state and campaign funds does not make his actions correct, his “view” that he was elected to a part-time office does not actually make the office part-time. If anything, even as a full-time office, the Lt. Governor is paid at a level far higher than his relative worth among the other constitutional officers.
If he doesn’t want to work full-time, he’s free to leave.[foot]A governor actually did that once back in 1847.[/foot] It would certainly be more cost-effective for the state if he’d chosen that route a couple years ago.