ANNAPOLIS – It appears that Maryland judges will get up to a $30,000 raise spread over the next four years, after the House and Senate failed to agree on a lower amount by Wednesday’s deadline.
“While the House was arguing how big a pay raise,” said Delegate Herbert McMillan, D-Anne Arundel, “judges ended up getting $30,000, while state workers got a 2 percent COLA (cost of living allowance).”
The package, which provides $15,000 to $30,000 increases, depending on the court, was created by the Judicial Compensation Commission, whose members are appointed by the governor, the Senate president and House speaker. The commission president is lobbyist and former Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery.
“It was down to the wire,” Levitan said.
Recommendations are made by the committee for a four-year period. The General Assembly then has 50 days to formally change the compensation package.
“That’s the way the system works,” Levitan said, “if both houses cannot agree, than the recommendation takes effect.”
The leaders of the respective houses pointed the blame at the other, although both chambers failed to act quickly enough to pass a lower compensation measure.
The compensation measures were introduced on the 7th day of the session on Jan. 18.
The Senate passed a lower compensation package, SJ3, on March 4, which the House amended and sent back to them Wednesday. It would have taken Maryland’s chief judge’s salary from $151,352 to $161,352, an increase of $10,000. The compensation commission will increase his salary to $181,352, or $30,000. The House package, HJ1, would have allowed some salaries to grow faster than the Senate’s version, among other differences, but the chief judge would still end up making $161,352 at the end of four years.
The House passed HJ1 on Tuesday, which the Senate referred to two committees, Budget and Taxation and Judicial Proceedings Wednesday.
“We had all session long to work on this bill and the House didn’t get the bill to us until it was too late,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert.
That’s not what happened, said House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel.
“We actually gave them two options,” he said. “They had two offers that were proffered by the House. They did not choose either.”
“As a result of their inaction,” Busch said. “The governor’s proposal became law.”
The failed measures would have needed House and Senate approval to become law.
Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais, whose amendment to raise judicial compensation closer to the recommended $30,000 failed, was pleased with the inaction.
“Clearly I am delighted, I think this is the right thing,” she said.
“I supported the commission recommendations,” Delegate Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery. “I realize for a lot of people they think judges have an easy job or they think that judges are paid too much money. I think the reality is that we need to attract and keep the best possible judges and the pay grades in Maryland have lagged behind the pay grades for judges in many other states.”
But other opponents don’t believe the issue is settled.
“I think we are still in the game,” said Delegate Murray D. Levy, D-Charles.
An Assistant Attorney General for the State of Maryland in the Office of Counsel to the General Assembly said it’s over.
“In terms of the joint resolution, because of the Legislature’s failure to adopt or amend it,” Bonnie A. Kirkland said, “the recommendations and the resolution as introduced apply.”
However, she said there is room to do something within the budget, which is still under consideration.
“Under the Constitution,” she said, “the General Assembly has the authority to strike or reduce items in the budget.
But judges are happy with the results.
“We are very pleased,” said Irma Raker, a judge on the Maryland Court of Appeals. “We have felt that the commission recommendation was most appropriate. It was intended to retain and attract good judges and the salary increase is in line with the surrounding jurisdictions and over the next four years will bring Maryland judges salaries in line with the surrounding jurisdictions.”
But McMillan said Maryland judges aren’t hurting.
“Not one judicial branch of the Circuit Court judges, Special Appeals, District Court judges,” McMillan said, “None of those judges, when ranked nationally against other states’ pay, were less than 16th. That was the lowest any of our judges were paid compared to other judges in the nation.”
For state employees, the raise might be hard to take, said the legislative director for AFSCME Council 92, which represents state workers.
“There may be some justice in this pay raise,” Sue Esty said. “It is going to be hard for our members to see it when we have state employees and retirees who are really struggling with the higher health insurance costs. And many of whom make less than $30,000 a year.”