Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton Jr. urged state lawmakers Friday to raise the salaries of justices and judges, saying they have not had "a measurable increase" in pay for 10 years.
In his annual State of the Judiciary Address delivered before the legislature's Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary at Northern Kentucky University, Minton said Kentucky ranks last among surrounding states in pay for judges and poorly among all states.
He said a study this year of judicial compensation from the National Center for State Courts shows Kentucky's Supreme Court justices rank 45th in the nation in pay, Court of Appeals judges 37th and circuit judges 42nd.
Minton makes $140,508 a year. Other justices are paid annually $135,502, appellate judges $130,048, circuit judges $124,618 and district judges $112,668.
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"Equally troubling is that low salaries have been compounded by recent reductions in pension benefits for the new judges coming on board.," said Minton. "This decline, if unchecked, could have a long-term effect on Kentucky's ability to attract exceptional lawyers to judicial office. Judges make far-reaching decisions every day and everyone who comes before the courts must have confidence in the abilities of those sitting on the bench."
Since 2009, judges in Kentucky have received only two salary increases of 1 percent each, he said. The two years before then, judges received only $400 increases.
"This means that it has been a decade since Kentucky's justices and judges have received a measurable increase in compensation."
Minton did not say how much the pay raise should be or how much it would cost. The new governor, Republican Matt Bevin, and the state legislature will craft a two-year budget during the 2016 General Assembly that begins in January.
Bevin and legislative leaders are now working on the budget and have not yet released any specifics about it.
A special commission Minton set up on judicial pay will present its report Nov. 16 to legislators on the budget committees.
"The increase we're requesting will be modest, but essential," said Minton. "While we cannot immediately close the pay gap for judges that developed over many years, we must begin making up for lost time."
Minton told the lawmakers Friday he is "mindful of the difficult funding decision you'll face during the upcoming budget session."