The state's judges won one last week in the battle for their first raise in more than a decade. But with the state budget in crisis, the timing couldn't have been worse.
The Court of Appeals ruled that the legislature violated the state constitution by tying raises for judges to unrelated matters, including pay hikes for the legislators themselves. From now on, judges' pay will have to be considered on the merits and free of other political calculations. When that will happen is still up to the legislature, so it could be a while before judges see any increase. That's just fiscal reality.
But judicial pay shouldn't be captive to the legislature's political circus. What's needed is an independent compensation commission to periodically provide cost-of-living increases for judges and the governor, attorney general and comptroller.
New York's judges aren't impoverished. Supreme Court justices make $136,700 a year. But they haven't received a raise since 1998; the only one they've had in 20 years. That's no way to attract and retain the best judges.
Legislators, whose part-time job pays $79,000, haven't had a raise since 1998, either. But they have the power to change that for themselves. And unlike judges, lawmakers get extra pay for additional duties and are allowed to earn outside income. If legislators believe their compensation is inadequate, they should vote themselves a raise, take the heat and stop using judges for political cover. hN