Four years ago the Connecticut General Assembly agreed to provide Connecticut judges with four 3 percent annual wage increases in 2013 through 2016. The 2016 increase was put off until July 1, 2017, and now that final 3 percent is the subject of debate given the state’s budget crisis, though it went into effect automatically July 1. Even if the increase remains, it is feared that there will be a backlash from the judicial branch unions.
Our judges are underpaid in terms of their peers across the country. The General Assembly voted these raises four years ago. It is right that the promise should be kept, and the judicial unions should support it.
Gov. Dannel Malloy predicted earlier that the fourth and final increase would not be made, but the General Assembly failed to act in time. As the governor put it: “There are judicial branch unions that have to vote on this [the wage and benefit concessions for the unions], and imagine how you would feel about voting on that agreement in a context of which other people are receiving $400-a-month raises. I think it’s a tough signal to send.”
Joe Gaetano, president of the judicial marshal’s union, said it would be a “real injustice” to give the judges the promised pay increase.
This is not about sending signals or “optics” — the now trite term for appearances; this is about fairly compensating our judges, who happen to live and work in an expensive state, so that we can attract and retain top talent, as we have historically and that we must have on the bench going forward. The judicial branch unions ought to support the final increase for judges and not use it as an excuse to refuse concessions. It is in their direct interest to have the very best judges.
According to a survey of judicial salaries by the National Center for State Courts, the average annual percent change in compensation for trial court, appellate court, and highest court judges ranged from 3.19 to 3.30 percent before the recession. During the first two years of the recession the increases fell to an average of 1.67 percent, and then in 2010-11 down to just 0.6 percent. In the recovery since 2012, increases averaged 2.26 percent. The plan for 3 percent increases each year over four years, with the last year now delayed by a year, brings Connecticut’s average down to 2.40 percent per year, virtually the same as the average nationwide. All of our judges are paid substantially less (16 to 20 percent) than those at the top in other states.
The compensation was promised as part of an effort to recover lost ground after many years of little or no increase during the recession. That last, delayed 3 percent should be paid.