Louisiana judges will receive a pay raise this year – and potentially a 12.5% salary hike over the next several years – under a new measure signed into law by the governor that is also expected to boost pay for sheriffs and other local officials.
The measure, which was overwhelmingly backed in both chambers, was sponsored by state Sen. Danny Martiny, a term-limited Metairie Republican, gives judges a 2.5% pay raise July 1. The judiciary will pay the $1.8 million cost out of its existing surplus of roughly $50 million.
Beyond this year, judges are set for additional 2.5% pay raises annually through 2023, as long as the judiciary has the money to pay for them. Those could stack up to a cumulative 12.5% pay raise, costing a total of nearly $28 million.
Martiny, who says he is not seeking another elected office, pointed to a provision in the law that only allows the raises if the state Supreme Court and Judicial Budgetary Control Board determine there is enough money to pay them. He also said the Legislature will still have control over the judiciary’s budget.
“If they start paying themselves pay raises and cutting necessary programs that’ll come back to haunt them,” Martiny said Thursday.
Some officials in Jefferson Parish could also see their salaries rise because their pay is linked to that of judges, Martiny added.
Supreme Court Justices in Louisiana currently make $170,324, appellate court judges make $159,347 and district court judges make $153,143, according to the Judicial Compensation Commission.
Judges aren’t the only group who came out of the recently-ended legislative session with pay raises. Sheriffs, whose salaries are tied to judges, stand to benefit from the new law. District attorneys could get raises of if the governor signs a separate bill sitting on his desk. DAs currently make $50,000 a year from in base pay from the state, and the legislation would bring them to $55,000 in the coming years. DAs get more money locally, and the amount varies from parish to parish, said Pete Adams, head of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association.
Meanwhile, teachers will receive a $1,000 annual raise that amounts to 2% on average, their first raise in years. However, low wage workers left empty-handed again, after years of Edwards failing to gain traction for a proposed minimum wage hike.
The idea to raise judges’ salaries came out of a 2017 study conducted by economist Loren Scott that found judges’ pay in Louisiana – at the time $169,124 for higher courts, $158,147 for appellate courts and $151,943 for general trial courts – would need a 2.5% yearly boost to keep up with inflation.
Judges previously received pay raises of 2.1% each year from 2013 to 2017. There are currently 372 judges in the state – most of them judicial district court judges – who will see their paychecks grow under the new law.
Sheriffs, whose salaries are tied to those of district court judges, will also be able to take advantage of the 2.5% pay increase this year.
Next year, sheriffs will be eligible for a 7% pay increase if they take part in a certification program passed by lawmakers in 2018. They won’t be able to “double-dip,” said Mike Ranatza, head of the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, and take advantage of both the 7% and 2.5% raises in 2020. But they can get the raises outlined in the new law in any year where they don’t receive the 7% increase.
“What we wanted to say to the Legislature out of thanks for the fact they passed the certification program last year, we wanted to ensure we would not be double dipping,” Ranatza said of the provision in the law.
Scott, whose study found judicial pay in Louisiana was higher than Mississippi and most Texas judges, said Louisiana judges are also required to pay more into the retirement system than other states. Judicial pay nationally was higher than in Louisiana on average, the study said.
He said historically the judicial compensation commission has taken a “fairly conservative” approach to its recommended pay hikes, in part to abide by the political realities of the state Legislature.
“They’re realistic about what can happen at the Legislature with their salaries,” Scott said. “They never push to get their salaries up to the national level.”