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* JUDGES PAY: Arkansas judges could be heading to quite a pay raise. A consensus developed today for a significant raise for district judges (local judges with county wide jurisdiction) who currently make about $125,000, or about 89 percent of circuit judge pay. The average of suggested raises was almost $140,000, close to the range of comparable states being used — Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana and Missouri.
There's more disagreement on raises for circuit judges, court of appeals and Supreme Court.
There, the judges are pitching a pay model that suggests they've been left out of state employee COLAs and the merit pay system for state employees. True, but they make far more money than other state employees and enjoy a richer pension. There's a wide gap among members on those positions, Commissioner Barbara Graves said. Some have pointed to pay comparisons with the comparable states that show circuit and appellate judges squarely in the middle. The circuit judges, for example, make $140,372, against a median in the comparable states of $141,812 and an average of $146,000. Vice Chair Chuck Banks, a lawyer, has been pushing for significant pay raises for the judges, noting the importance of their work and the ability of judges to theoretically make more in private practice. Recommendations for chief justice have been as high as $191,000. The judges themselves are pressing for $165,000 at the circuit judge level, though salaries in Arkansas already are the 28th highest in the country for a state almost at the bottom in median pay. Banks has floated a proposal to give all judges a 15 percent pay raise (from more than $20,000 for circuit judges to $25,000 for the chief justice). That has met resistance from members who think the district judges were underpaid, but aren't so sure the others are that far out of line. At least one commissioner, after seeing comparable state numbers, called for no raises for the higher level judges.
State employees, who make $60,000 on average, are slated for a 1 percent pay raise this year.
The commission resumes deliberations at 8:30 a.m. this morning.