I mentioned last night that the legislation for district judge pay raises including a provision to raise the maximum pay for the three Little Rock municipal court judges to $175,000 a year (which compares with $139,821 for Supreme Court justices.) It was explained to me that this means "only" a $5,500 pay raise for the three judges, who now make $138,321 but who will now qualify for the full 4 percent pay raises given city employees. Without this bill, their pay is capped at $140,000.
I got a note about the item from City Manager Bruce Moore. I've asked for more explanation. He says this was not the city's bill. They are city judges, paid by the city, but a bill that provides a pay raise out of city money is not the city's bill?
I understand that the district judge pay bill — an omnibus bill for courts all over the state — has historically been larded with favors extended by legislators to local pals, particularly by lawyer-legislators. But a city struggling for money and begging a tax increase during a year when no state employee, from grass mower up, is getting a pay raise might give a little thought to appearances. The city marshaled a battalion of expensive lobbyists to protect (unsuccessfully) an exorbitant excise charge on a private parking lot operator at Little Rock National Airport. Maybe they could have read the other bills pertaining to Little Rock for other surprises.
UPDATE: A legislative observer also wonders where the city was when a couple of Little Rock legislators this morning beat a proposal to put non-uniformed city workers in the state Public Employees Retirement System. They are the only government workers in the county not covered and get a pittance toward retirement for their low-pay jobs — 4 percent versus local contributions of 16.5 percent to firefighters, 13.2 percent to police and 23.3 percent for city judges. Who are these people who got short shrift? They are those who risk (and in one recent case, lost) their lives putting out salt on icy streets and other hard labor. I've asked Rep. Allen Kerr and Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson why they decided
to oppose this proposal. CORRECTION: They deprived the measure of two critical votes by absences in Joint Retirement today, after having indicated support. Hutchinson said he was not absent to thwart the bill and still supports it. He urged backers to try to expunge the vote and try again. Kerr indeed decided not to support it. His response:
No I do not oppose putting them in APERS, however I AM concerned about the structure of the bill, and the fact that most of the employees still do not know what will be asked of them in order to do this. Many cannot afford 5% of their salary going to retirement. IN order for this to work properly for them they will have to put 100% of their current 401k's into the retirement plan. Most will not want to do this and try to spend the funds for other things only to have a huge tax and penalties bill the following year that will bankrupt people on that level of income. This is in part what I do for a living so I know something about it. I am also concerned about the cost to the cities. All that said I would love to find a way to get them All into APERS, just not sure this is the bill for it.
Note: A spokesman for workers said 220 signed a petition distributed to legislators acknowledging that the change would cost them money but said it was worth it for a guaranteed pension.