Missouri House rejects pay raise for judges and elected officials

Thursday, January 25, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The House on Wednesday rejected a proposal to increase the pay of judges and other elected officials.

House members voted 118-37 in favor of a measure that would veto a raise of $1,200 plus 4 percent for judges and elected officials. The raise was recommended by a state salary commission and takes effect automatically if two-thirds of the House and Senate don't reject it by Feb. 1.

Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said it is unlikely the Senate will reject the pay raise. A Senate committee already considered such a measure and did not vote on it.

In the House, both Republicans and Democrats said they opposed the salary commission's recommendation because it included lawmakers, not because they don't want to give judges more money.

"There are people in my district who don't have running water, and I don't believe we, as elected officials, statewide officials should take a pay raise at this time," said Rep. Mike McGhee, R-Odessa, who sponsored the measure.

Supporters of the salary commission's recommendations said Missouri judges have not received a raise in seven years and some municipal judges now earn more than the Missouri Supreme Court chief justice.

"It's not about money. It can't be, because we're not paying them adequately," Rep. John Burnett, D-Kansas City, said. "But that's not an excuse for not paying them fairly."

Under the salary commission's recommendations, a Supreme Court justice's salary would increase from $123,000 to $129,168 a year. Circuit judges' pay would increase from $108,000 to $113,568. Several other court officials whose salaries are tied to circuit judges' pay, including county prosecutors, are also likely to see pay increases.

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 in the future.

The governor has called for giving state employees a 3 percent raise in his budget recommendations for next year.

Rep. Jim Lembke said public service should not be about the money and judges who think they are not earning enough should go into private practice.

"I hope that those serving in the judiciary will find some place in those soft, wonderful hearts to serve this state and the people of this state," Lembke, R-St. Louis, said.

The raises would take effect for judges beginning July 1 and for lawmakers in 2009.

Missouri Supreme Court Justice Michael Wolff has called for judicial pay raises the last two years in annual speeches before joint sessions of the Legislature. He said salary considerations are beginning to make it difficult to recruit quality judges to the bench.

The Missouri Bar, which testified against efforts to reject the pay raise in both the House and Senate, said qualified judges are an important factor for businesses considering moving to Missouri.

"You are doing a terrible disservice if you let our court system go to rack and ruin if you are trying to attract businesses to this state," said Patrick McLarney, past president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, earlier this week.

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