Elected officials' pay raises set to kick in

Thursday, January 18, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Pay raises for judges and elected officials are likely to take effect, a Senate leader indicated Wednesday.

A Senate committee Wednesday discussed a proposal to block the pay raises, which were recommended late last year by a salary commission. But only the sponsors spoke for the measure to reject the raises, and the Missouri Bar opposed it.

The committee did not vote on the measure, and Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said he doubts there's enough support for it to clear the committee.

Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Independence, and Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, both proposed measures to block the pay increase, saying that while judges should be paid better, it's not right to raise lawmakers' salaries at the same time.

Callahan called his resolution "an attempt by myself to bring back accountability to the system."

The state salary commission recommended giving officeholders a $1,200 raise, plus a 4 percent raise, essentially restoring the pay increase that other state employees received in the past few years.

The higher salaries would begin for judges and statewide elected officials with the 2008 fiscal year that starts July 1. For legislators, however, the pay raises would not kick in until 2009.

For a Supreme Court judge, the salary would rise from $123,000 to $129,168 a year. Circuit judges' pay would increase from $108,000 to $113,568. Legislators' salary would rise from $31,351 to $33,853 annually. The plan also calls for judges and elected officials to receive whatever pay increase other state employees get going forward.

Woody Cozad, speaking for the Missouri Bar, said lawyers in private practice don't apply to be judges because they don't want to take a pay cut. Cozad said he turned down opportunities on federal courts largely due to lower pay.

Patrick McLarney, past president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, noted that Kansas City municipal judges make more than the Missouri Supreme Court chief justice and asked the committee to kill the proposal blocking the pay raises.

"We're so far behind there's nobody in the country as bad off as we are," he said.

Missourians' per-capita personal income in 2005 was $31,299, according to the state Department of Economic Development.

Shields said the committee will consider whether to send the legislation to the full Senate for the sake of discussion. Under a voter-approved change, the raises take effect unless two-thirds of the House and Senate reject the plan by Feb. 1 -- a standard unlikely to be met, at least in the Senate.

A House committee has not yet considered its version to reject the pay plan, though House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, has expressed opposition to the raises and wants the House to vote on the measure.

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