No book deal, but salary hikes for NJ judges and Cabinet are back
Salaries for around 600 high-ranking state officials, including judges and Cabinet officers, would increase significantly under a bill up for Senate committee consideration Monday.
The commissioners who run the executive branch departments haven’t gotten a raise since 2002, but their salaries, plus those of Board of Public Utilities commissioners and executive directors of the four legislative offices, may go from $141,000 to $175,000 – the same salary as the governor.
“There’s been a 0 percent increase for 15 years, so I really don’t think it’s an unreasonable request,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester. “Think about it: 15 years of nothing.”
Judges would get their first raises since 2009 – starting with $8,000 increases this year, next year and in 2020. At that point, Superior Court and Tax Courts judges would be paid $189,000, and their salaries would then be increased each year by the rate of inflation starting in 2021.
Assignment and appellate judges and Supreme Court justices, whose salaries currently range from $171,000 to $193,000, would also get the raises.
Sweeney said judges have seen “a major reduction in wages” because their contributions toward pensions and health benefits have tripled or quadrupled since their last raises.
“We’re talking about judges that are making very important decisions,” Sweeney said. “We want to be able to make sure we maintain a certain level of quality when it comes to judges.”
Changes for 479 judges could also trigger raises for 40 workers’ compensation judges, 45 administrative law judges and 105 county clerks, prosecutors, sheriffs, surrogates and registers of deeds and mortgages, whose minimum salaries are linked by state law.
Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Warren, said there are plenty of people interested in becoming judges at current salaries, partially because they can earn a six-figure pension after 10 years on the bench.
“You should see the line of attorneys that are waiting to meet me at my office to become judges,” Doherty said.
Doherty said the raises would benefit people who are already highly paid, many of them in the pension system.
“Right now we’re having a problem paying our bills, and we’re asking the taxpayers to do more with less. And I think the last thing we need to do is increase salaries for some of these executive position,” Doherty said.
“I don’t believe we need to,” he said. “It’s sending the wrong message.”
The bill represents a slimmed-down version of a proposal that sparked controversy in late 2016, when it included permission for then-Gov. Chris Christie to sign a contract to publish a book while in office. It would also have allocated $30,000 more to each lawmaker to pay their aides.
“Look, there’s no book deal here,” Sweeney said. “There’s no, there’s nothing in here – the last bill, don’t forget, had money for district offices. That’s not in here, either.”
There isn’t yet a published fiscal analysis of the bill, S1229, which was introduced Jan. 25 and is scheduled for a vote by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
A review of the current proposal, based on the analysis the Office of Legislative Services used in 2016, indicates the bill could lead to mandatory increases in state salaries for judges and county prosecutors totaling $4.6 million this year, $9.1 million in 2019 and $13.7 million in 2020.
There could be an additional $816,000 in potential additional state salary increases, depending on whether the legislative leaders and Gov. Phil Murphy decide to raise the salaries for the Cabinet and legislative executive directors.
There could also be increases in what counties pay their county clerks, sheriffs, surrogates and registers of deeds and mortgages, whose salaries must be at least 65 percent of what a Superior Court judge is paid. Sweeney said some of those officials are already paid more than the minimum.