The Independent Citizens Commission that meets annually to consider pay for state elected officials recommended a 2.5 percent raise for all state judges and prosecutors, plus an additional $2,500 for all members of the Arkansas Supreme Court and Arkansas Court of Appeals.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck recommended the additional $2,500 pay for chief justice, Supreme Court justices, chief judge of the court of appeals and court of appeals judges. This addresses long-simmering unhappiness on the part of the Supreme Court for what they perceived as too narrow a gap between their pay and that of circuit judges. The Supreme Court had once asked for an 11 percent pay increase, but scaled that back to $5,000 this year, an amount they’ll exceed by the ratification of today’s motion. Tuck focused on the narrow difference in circuit judge and court of appeals pay, which she said might discourage people from running for court of appeals seats, which often cover broader districts than those covered by circuit judges.
Turning to other elected officials, Tuck also discussed extra pay for auditor and treasurer, which she said seem to be below the level paid in other states. The commission held off on pay raises for statewide officers and legislators because none had made a specific pay request. Members wanted more information on how state employees were treated in pay raises and on the number of days legislators in neighboring states are in session. Most make less than Arkansas legislators, who also receive per diem payments in addition to salary.
Commission Chair Chuck Banks said no one had yet stepped forward to say “we need extra income.” Commissioner Jan Zimmerman asked for more information before making a final decision.
State employees got a 2.3 percent pay raise this year. Circuit judges had asked for a 3 percent pay increase and district judges had asked for the same pay raise given state employees.
The commission was established by a 2014 amendment to take the issue of pay raises out of the hands of legislators, a political hot potato.
The recommendations will be put out for public comment before becoming final.
The judicial actions would move Supreme Court judges to about $181,797; court of appeals judges to $176,412, and circuit judges to $172,298. The chief justice will rise to $196,335 and the Court of Appeals chief judge to $179,105.
There was some mention by members that the courts in Arkansas already rank relatively high against all states, 30th in the case of the Supreme Court in a state with one of the country’s lowest per capita incomes.
Prosecutors pay is set at a percentage of circuit judge pay — 90 percent in the case of the highest-paid prosecutors.
The commission will meet again in December.
The following are existing pay comparisons between Arkansas and surrounding states. The pay increases voted today will be added to these rates.