State judges might get pay raise

CHARLESTON – Some state judges might be receiving pay increases because of proposed legislation that would reduce the pension payments the judges have to currently make to the Judges' Retirement System. The bill is pending before the Senate Finance Committee and could reduce pension payments made to the Judges' Retirement System from 10.5 percent to anywhere down to 7 percent. Nearly 50 circuit court judges and Supreme Court justices could see an increase of more than $4,000 per year if the bill proceeds. In 2005 the pension was underfunded and rates were increased from 7 percent. Now that it is overfunded, the pension payments might return to that number. Currently, there is a two-tier system with the Judges' Retirement System. The first tier consists of judges who came to the bench prior to 2005 and the second tier consists of the newer judges. Judges in the first tier receive increases in their retirement money when the Legislature increases the judges' salaries, but, judges in the second tier receive a flat 75 percent regardless of a legislative increase. Because of the two-tier system, there are many judges who are members of the Public Employees Retirement System rather than the judicial retirement plan because less of their retirement is deducted from salaries. If the bill passes, nearly 50 state judges would receive a pay raise, although the state would not be spending more money on the judges' salaries. Supreme Court of Appeals Administrative Director Steve Canterbury said he does not think it should be considered a pay raise. The bill aims to reduce the payment starting July 1 and pension payments could range between 7 and 10.5 percent, but it is still unknown as to whether or not the bill will be taken up.

More Stories