NEW ORLEANS -- The pay raise for Louisiana judges has been approved despite the salary freeze imposed upon state employees. The increase in salary pertains to all judges from the Supreme Court to the city courts.
Louisiana judges received a pay increase of 2.1 percent in July in accordance with a legislative bill passed in 2013. That legislation provided a five-year locked-in salary hike for judges. This was implemented in an effort to push the pay of Louisiana judges closer to the southern average salary. The automatic increase will end in 2017.
The bill was advocated by Sen. Danny Martiny (R-Metairie) and signed by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. The hike started in 2013 with a 5.5 percent jump for Supreme Court justices, a 3.7 percent increase for the appellate judges, a 4 percent raise for the district judges and a 2.1 percent increase for city and parish judges. Each category was mandated to receive a 2.1 percent hike from 2014 to 2017.
Prior to this bill, the last pay hike for Louisiana judges was in 2010. Although a considerable amount of time has passed, some legislators still felt that the salary raise poorly reflected upon the state, especially in light of the pay freeze imposed on other state employees.
The automatic salary increase for judges also puts the state’s economy in even deeper trouble, some say. Sen. Neil Rise (R-Columbia) said the pay hike sends the wrong message to the public. Riser was one of nine senators who opposed the bill.
"I think it sends the wrong message," Riser told The News Star. "Our judges do a great job, but I don't think automatic pay raises are appropriate."
Martiny himself said the bill for the pay hike may not have been easily approved if it was submitted today. Considering the state of Louisiana’s budget, a salary increase for judges might not have been viewed as wise.
"When we came up with this plan five years ago the Supreme Court said it could absorb the raises within its budget," Martiny told The News Star. "Things change. Obviously, it would have a harder time passing now."
This year, the budget for the legislature suffered an $8 million decrease and is now at $171.3 million. Despite this cut, salary increases for judges are unaffected, because these are already locked in. Since the Louisiana Constitution states that the legislature is not permitted to reduce the salary of the judges, the pay hikes will still be implemented until 2017.
However, House appropriations chairman Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) remains optimistic that a way out could still be in sight. He believes the judges would be open to adjusting their salaries to help with the state’s budget problem.
"Obviously giving pay raises in times like this is a concern for all our members," Henry told The News Star. “I think the judges would be receptive to having more flexibility in the cuts they have to make within their branch."