Panel urges $15K raise for Arizona judges

PHOENIX -- A special panel voted Monday to tell Gov. Doug Ducey that judges in Arizona should get a $15,000 raise.

Without dissent, the Commission on Salaries for Elected State Officers accepted the arguments by Chief Justice Scott Bales that the boost, which would take place in 2017, would keep the wages for him and his fellow jurists even with inflation since their last pay hike in 2009. Bales also said it would help keep judges from quitting to take more financially lucrative jobs in private practice.

But for the moment, the action of the commission is only a recommendation that now goes to the governor. He can decide how much of that -- if any -- to put into the budget he presents next month to the Legislature.

Ducey press aide Daniel Scarpinato was noncommittal.

"We are still working through the budget and will consider all requests,' he said.

But the law on raises does have one unusual quirk: If the Legislature does not vote specifically to alter or reject what Ducey eventually proposes within 90 days of getting his plan, it will take effect automatically, without any affirmative action by lawmakers.

Lawmakers themselves, however, will have to wait until the commission meets again this spring or summer to decide how much to recommended their own $24,000-a-year pay should be boosted.

That, however, has a different process, with the proposal going directly to voters in November. And the last time the public was feeling generous with their lawmakers was in 1998.

With the proposed hike, the salary of the chief justices of the Supreme Court would become $175,000. Other Supreme Court justices would make$170,000, with the salary of judges of the Court of Appeals at $165,000

And the plan would have Superior Court judges making $160,000, with half the cost coming out of the state budget and half from each affected county.

Bales called the raises important.

"Arizona enjoys a national reputation for the quality of its judiciary,' he said.

"But to continue to maintain the quality of our courts we need to be able to recruit and retain capable individuals who are going to commit to work in our courts as a career,' he continued. Bales said that judges, no subject to term limits, are "expected to serve for the rest of their careers.'

Commission member Joe Kanefield said the raises are merited, saying other jurists in Arizona make far more.

He said federal trial judges earn $201,000, with even federal magistrates earning $184,000. And Kanefield said the presiding judges of the city courts in Phoenix and Tempe make as much as Bales.

If Ducey approves and lawmakers go along, there will be some cost, and not just to the $1.4 million annually to the state.

By law, the state pays none of the salaries of judges in Maricopa County and just half of the wages of superior court judges in other counties. Attorney Pete Dunn who lobbies for the Arizona Judges Association figures the price tag for all those trial judges will be $2.1 million in Maricopa County, $400,000 in Pima County and $900,000 among the 13 smaller counties.

Scarpinato also provided no answer to whether his boss will propose an overall pay hike for all other state employees.

The last raise was in 2013 when Gov. Jan Brewer provided a 5 percent pay increase, but only for employees whose jobs were not were not covered by the state's merit system protections or agreed to waive those protections. Prior to that, the state Department of Administration says the last across-the-board pay hike was in 2008 when workers got a 3 percent boost.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

Current salaries of Arizona judges / Rank nationally

Supreme Court chief justice -- $160,000 / 34 of 51 (including Washington D.C.)

Other Supreme Court justices -- $155,000 / 34 of 51

Court of Appeals judges -- $150,000 / 29 of 40

Superior Court judges -- $145,000 / 29 of 51

-- Source: National Center for State Courts as of July 1

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