Judges in Louisiana are in for series of pay raises under legislation headed to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk after winning wide support from state lawmakers.
Louisiana’s 372 state judges will get a 2.5% boost to their paychecks beginning July 1 under Senate Bill 27 by Sen. Danny Martiny, a Metairie Republican. Judges could also be in for 2.5% annual raises over each of the four years after that if there’s money in the judicial system’s budget.
Sheriffs, whose salaries are tied to judge’s paychecks under state law, could receive a similar hike under the legislation. A provision in the bill limits sheriffs — most of whom are already in line for a raise next year under a previous piece of legislation — from stacking the judicial pay raise on top of other pay boosts.
Mike Ranatza, the executive director of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, said some sheriffs with tight budgets might pass on the pay hikes. Ranatza said his group asked Martiny to insert the prohibition on stacking raises “so there'd be no perception of double-dipping.”
The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed to cover the first year of pay raises for judges — at an estimated cost of $1.8 million — from its substantial cash reserves. It’s unclear whether judges will continue to tap reserves or turn to state taxpayers to cover future raises, which could cost as much as $9.5 million per year if all five annual pay hikes are awarded.
Louisiana judges also received annual pay raises each year from 2013 to 2017.
Salaries for the state’s 64 sheriffs are funded locally from their own agency budgets, which are generally made up of a mix of local taxes, fees and court fines.
Lawmakers supporting the pay raise for judges argued it’d put their salaries on par with neighboring states. Stagnant pay, supporters worried, could discourage talented attorneys from seeking judgeships because private practice can be far more lucrative.
“The only way we could have fair, good judges is if they’re paid an appropriate wage,” said Republican Rep. Tanner Magee, a Houma attorney who handled the proposal on the House floor.
Few spoke out against the proposal. State Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, questioned why lawmakers were approving a series of annual pay raises all at once while ordinary taxpayers in his district haven’t seen their own paychecks grow as steadily.
The House overwhelmingly passed the raises Friday on a 90-to-3 vote. GOP Reps. Beryl Amedee of Houma and Dodie Horton of Haughton joining Miguez in opposition. It sailed through the Senate 35-to-1, with only Sen. John Milkovich, D-Keithville — who questioned whether the state could afford a cumulative 12.5% pay raise for judges — voting against it.
Lawmakers rejected a proposal that would've set up a commission to study possible future pay raises for state legislators — i.e. themselves or their replacements — earlier this session.
Martiny said his Senate Bill 27 could also “indirectly” hike pay for local politicians in some parishes or municipalities where ordinances link salaries for local elected officials to what judges earn. That includes in Jefferson Parish, where Martiny lives, which sets pay for many politicians at a certain percentage of a judge’s salary.
But Martiny noted those local governments “can always change that” themselves by tweaking or changing salary formulas to avoid handing out raises.
Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press contributed to this report.