Hunter Field reports in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning on the Independent Citizens Commission that meets annually on pay raises for elected state officials. Only the state judges requested raises among the statewide officials, legislators, prosecutors and judges covered by the commission, created by constitutional amendment in 2014 to remove the political hot potato of pay raises from the legislature.
State district court judges — who sit in city and county courts — requested a 2.4 percent pay raise. That’s the overall pay raise percentage allotted to state employees by the legislature, though a merit pay plan means some state employees will get more.
Circuit judges and Court of Appeals judges are seeking a 3 percent pay raise, from $168,096 and $169,671, respectively.
Chief Justice Dan Kemp, who makes $189,108, asked for 3 percent for himself and the other six Supreme Court justices, who make $174,924, plus an additional $5,000 for the six associate justices. He said this raise, more than $10,000 or about 6 percent overall for the six associate justices, would put the Supreme Court more in line with where the circuit judges and court of appeals judges rank nationally.
Arkansas judges do well against the national average in every category, given that Arkansas ranks 48th in per capita income and has a cost of living cheaper than average.
Kemp said the Arkansas Supreme Court ranks 26th in pay, while the Court of Appeals ranks 18th and circuit judges 16th. Adjusted for cost of living, Kemp said circuit court pay is second highest in the country.
The Supreme Court has pressed for higher pay since 2015 because of justices’ objections to the size of the pay gap between the Supreme Court and lower courts. Kemp sought an $11,000 pay raise for the Supreme Court two years ago. Justices Karen Baker and Jo Hart complained in previous years about pay before Kemp joined the court.