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Shoffner Scandal Underscores Low Elected Official Pay

Are Arkansas taxpayers simply getting what they pay for when it comes to elected officials? 
LITTLE ROCK, AR - Are Arkansas taxpayers simply getting what they pay for when it comes to elected officials? 
   
Former state treasurer Martha Shoffner says her financial situation drove her to accept bribes out of pie boxes.

After her first court appearance on May 20 before her resignation Shoffner was resolute.  "What do you have to say to the people of Arkansas?"  Shoffner says: "That i love them."

But it's unlikely many Arkansans have much love for Martha Shoffner now.

The state treasurer forced to resign amid federal bribery and extortion charges.

Shoffner's already admitted accepting multiple payments totaling $36,000 over a two year period.

The cash often delivered in a pie box to conceal the payments.

Prosecutors say all of the payments came in exchange for steering state business to a bond broker.

Yet, Shoffner wants a trial.

"Well, I think that's where you get the truth," Shoffner told reporters leaving court June 27th.

According to court documents, the Newport native says she needed the cash to pay a rent at a Little Rock apartment, 90 minutes from her Jackson County home.

Despite a $54,594 annual, telling friends she was "broke" according to her federal criminal complaint.

"Ms. Shoffner ran for the office knowing what the salary was," English says.  "She knew what she was getting into."

But UALR political science professor Art English says that doesn't mean she or other constitutional officers are paid well.

"We've always had this long tradition of unfortunately not paying our constitutional officers presumably what they ought to get," English says.

And the numbers bear it out.

Arkansas treasury salary is dead last in the nation for states that have the constitutional office.

And states around Arkansas like Missouri and Oklahoma pay over $100,000 annually.

The neighboring state of Tennessee has the highest state treasurer salary in the nation, just over $182,000

"Our salaries in Arkansas for constitutional officers have always been abysmally low," English says.

You have to walk all the way back in history to Arkansas' 1874 constitution to see why.

Drafted nine years after the end of the civil war and against a backdrop of inherent distrust of elected officials, salaries for offices like attorney general and land commissioner started low and stayed there.

Even a voter led constitutional amendment in 1992 only bumped treasurer pay to $37,000.  It has since been incrementally increased by the general assembly in the form of cost of living adjustments to its current rate.

Low pay aside, English says that's a long way from a reason to accept money under the table to pay rent.

"If there is something to the idea that i needed more money to have housing and things like that, well, it's time to resign and find another job, you know what i mean?"

At her most recent court appearance to date, Shoffner didn't offer specifics.

"Well, there were just certain issues that were brought up that i couldn't plead to on the first," Shoffner said.

We might not know until next spring what those reasons are.  But until then don't expect a big public push to give elected officials anymore than they already get.

Texas is the only state with a treasurer salary lower than Arkansas.  It sets aside no money.

Voters there abolished the position of state treasurer in 1996.
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