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ALBANY �- In a bold and calculated maneuver, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye yesterday submitted a budget request seeking $69.5 million to provide New York judges with a retroactive pay hike, which would represent their first salary increase since 1999 and only the second in 18 years. Under the proposal, the salaries of state judges would be proportionately linked to those of federal district court judges. Chief Judge Kaye would receive the smallest increase, about 14.3 percent (to $178,310 from $156,000). Supreme Court justices would see an 18.6 percent boost (to $162,100 from $136,700) and some city judges could receive raises of more than 25 percent. The raises would be tied to the current U.S. District judge salary of $162,100 and retroactive to April, the start of the current fiscal year. When federal judicial salaries jump to $165,200 on Jan. 1, 2007, New York judicial salaries would increase correspondingly. By including the pay request directly in its budge � -a strategic move not attempted since the late 1980s and rarely if ever successfully � the Judiciary has placed the issue squarely in front of Governor George E. Pataki and legislative leaders. Judicial salaries are almost always negotiated outside the confines of the budget, and they are virtually always tied to raises for legislators. But after last year, when the judges attempted to follow the traditional path and fell short for reasons wholly unrelated to the merits of their own proposal, the Judiciary opted to take a more direct, albeit risky, approach. In the past, governors and lawmakers have made clear they do not think the Judiciary should include pay raises in its budget proposal, and the Third Branch has scrupulously adhered to that sentiment. But now the dynamics have changed. “It is not conventional wisdom and it could be viewed as presumptuous on the part of the Judiciary,” acknowledged Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman. “But it is our intent by placing this in the budget to set the context for the legislative session as it relates to the Judiciary. It lets everyone understand that as far as the Judiciary is concerned, this is our absolute highest priority at this point in time.” Mr. Pataki’s response was positive. “The governor has been very supportive of judicial pay raises and in fact submitted a bill in June,” said Michael Moore, spokesman for the governor. “The governor remains supportive.” The leaders of the two legislative judiciary committees � both of whom strongly support judicial pay increases � yesterday said that including the request in the budget makes a point that needs to be made in Albany. “This is a way for the chief judge to show just how serious they are,” said Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein, D-Brooklyn. “I think this is a way for the court system to have the issue front and center as we start our budget discussions.” Senator John A. DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee in the upper chamber, agreed. “I think it is a good idea and I think it should have been passed last year,” Mr. DeFrancisco said. “This is another opportunity to get the issue aired and hopefully resolved.” Last year, Mr. Pataki introduced a judicial pay raise bill similar to the one proposed by Chief Judge Kaye. The judiciary committees of both houses approved Chief Judge Kaye’s bill, and rank-and-file lawmakers were almost in agreement. Week after week, teams of judges converged on the Capitol, meeting with receptive legislators to advance their cause. But lawmakers were unwilling to give judges a raise unless they got one, too. Unable politically to justify a legislative pay hike, the legislators let the matter die, leaving many judges frustrated and bitter. Yesterday’s move by the chief judge puts the pay issue formally before Mr. Pataki, who is constitutionally obligated to pass it along to the Legislature without revision. That places the executive and legislative leadership in a position where they must make some sort of affirmative response. They could approve pay raises, which they have supported, or reject salary increases and risk appearing hypocritical and disingenuous. They could also approve the salary increases as part of the Judiciary budget, and then refuse to enact enabling legislation that would permit the money to be spent, a move which would prompt enormous backlash from the judges and, probably, the myriad editorial boards supporting their position. But they cannot passively permit the issue to wither, as they did last year. “We think we change the dynamics of the pay issue, putting it out front, and at the very least increase the odds of having passage not only of the budget increase itself, but the enabling legislation,” Judge Lippman said. “Barring a special session at the end of this year, which we don’t expect, it will certainly be the centerpiece of our efforts as the new session begins [in January].” Wild Card The wild card is whether the Legislature will abandon the political cover provided by linking judicial and legislative salaries, or risk boosting their own salaries during a year when all 212 lawmakers stand for re-election and Senate Republicans fear losing their slim majority in the upper chamber. Typically, lawmakers wait until after the election to vote themselves pay raises, setting in motion a chain of events that increases the pay of legislators, judges and the governor’s executive staff. With the judicial pay raise proposal included in a budget that is supposed to be completed by April 1, it will be difficult or impossible to delay the issue of judicial-legislative raises, if they remain linked, until after the election. Mr. DeFrancisco, who attempted to “de-link” judicial and legislative salaries earlier in the year, said inclusion of the pay issue in the judiciary budget should break the traditional tie, but that remains to be seen. It is unclear if Mr. Pataki will embrace legislative pay raises � and, possibly by extension, judicial pay raises � but that may be the only way for the lame-duck governor to obtain pay hikes for the members of his cabinet. Some observers have suggested the governor may be eager to do whatever necessary to boost the salaries of his staff, since all of them will likely leave office with him at the end of 2006 and since their retirement benefits are based on the highest salaries they receive as state employees. There is little chance the Legislature will increase the pay of the executive staff without increasing their own, and little chance they will grant themselves and Mr. Pataki’s staff pay hikes while ignoring the judges, observers say. One element of the pay raise proposal, which would provide for regular increases, is especially appealing to lawmakers, but not necessarily the governor. Several legislators have urged that their salaries should be adjusted automatically to reflect inflation or some other index, so they can maintain their purchasing power without having to endure the political consternation that is inevitable when they vote themselves pay raises. The last time lawmakers gave themselves a raise, at the end of 1998, they increased their salaries by 38 percent to adjust for nearly a decade of stagnant pay and were castigated in the press and by good government groups. “New York must put an end to its history of sporadic pay increases following unacceptably long intervals without adjustments and remove this issue from the political realm,” Chief Judge Kaye said in a press release yesterday. Although she was clearly referring only to the Judiciary, her remarks echo those of lawmakers equally interested in regular rather than random pay adjustments. In his judicial pay bill last year, Mr. Pataki generally afforded judges the raises requested. However, he was uncomfortable with the idea of automatic pay enhancements, fearing such an arrangement would hamstring future governors and restrict the ability of the executive to react to cyclical fiscal difficulties. Selling the Plan Yesterday, Chief Judge Kaye and Judge Lippman immediately went about selling their proposal. They issued a press release highlighting the fact that New York judges have gone longer than any others in the country, state or federal, without a pay hike. They stressed that the cost of living has increased 26 percent since the last time judges received a raise. They also issued a document on the federal Ethics Reform Act of 1989, which puts judges, as well as members of Congress and the top executive branch staff, in line for a cost-of-living raise when such enhancements are provided to other federal workers. “New York’s history of inattention to judicial compensation is unprecedented among government employees, especially those in a highly professional group whose members often have far more lucrative career options,” Chief Judge Kaye said in the statement. The response at the Capitol yesterday was non-committal. “As part of the budget process, we will consider it along with the other needs of state,” said Eileen Larrabee, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Rensselaer County, issued a statement late yesterday afternoon in which he said he expects this to be a “lean budget year” and expressed concern about “the overall Judiciary budget request and how it will fit in the context of the state budget.” Mr. DeFrancisco said the one downside to the chief judge’s move is that it adds $69.5 million to the Judiciary budget, making the annual increase appear larger than it actually is if compared apples-to-apples with prior years. “It creates a greater overall increase in the budget and some people could take a shot at the budget and claim the increase is too high,” Mr. DeFrancisco said. “But I don’t see a great downside. In every budget negotiation there are many non-budgetary issues that get resolved. If anyone criticizes this as a non traditional budgetary issue, well, policy issues are also decided through the budget.” The salary proposal is included in a 2006-07 spending plan calling for a 7.1 percent increase in general fund court appropriations. It totals $1.96 billion, representing a $130 million increase, without factoring in the salary increases, the $439 million spent on employee fringe benefits and other items normally accounted for separately. If all fund categories are included , the budget adds up to $2.3 billion, an increase of 11.1 percent. Budget Details An inch-thick spending plan signed by all seven members of the Court of Appeals and delivered yesterday afternoon to the governor and legislative leaders shows that the vast majority of budget goes for personnel and related costs, much of it governed by collective bargaining agreements. It also shows that since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, court security costs have nearly doubled, accounting for almost 20 percent of the budget. Next year, the Judiciary expects to spend $382 million on security. Also in the budget: • Neither the Court of Appeals nor any of the four appellate divisions plan to add staff in the coming year. The Court of Appeals’ budget would increase by 3.5 percent, to $14.7 million, but its work force of 154 judicial and non-judicial staff would remain unchanged. There are plans to spend $3 million to acquire and renovate two unoccupied buildings near Court of Appeals Hall for ancillary agencies. The Appellate Division budgets would increase about 5.7 percent in the First Department (166 employees), 2.5 percent in the Second Department (232 employees), 1 percent in the Third Department (101 employees) and 6.6 percent in the Fourth Department (110 employees). • Largely because of several new judgeships created by the Legislature last year, the Court of Claims budget would increase by 33 percent, to $18.5 million. There are 27 judicial and 145 non-judicial positions in the Court of Claims. • Drug treatment courts now employ 154 people, a number that would not change under the proposed budget. However, the budget for those courts would increase by about 2.7 percent, to $17.8 million. Nearly 11,000 people have successfully “graduated” from drug treatment courts since the first was opened in Rochester City Court in 1995. � John Caher can be reached at [email protected].

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