New York judges won't get a pay hike next year. They aren't happy about it.
ALBANY – New York's 1,300 state judges will not get a raise in 2020 and could see their salary frozen until at least 2024 after a key panel failed to reach consensus on a pay hike.
The state Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation issued a report Friday that failed to raise judges' salaries for the next four years, leaving state Supreme Court justices with a pay rate of $210,900.
The report came as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers wrestle with a $6 billion state budget gap for the fiscal year beginning in April.
The decision ensures judges will join state lawmakers in seeing their pay remain stagnant in 2020 after the courts invalidated a planned raise for legislators earlier this year.
Lawrence Marks, who oversees the day-to-day operations of New York's judiciary as the state's chief administrative judge, said judges are "extremely disappointed" with the commission's decision.
Marks said he hopes Cuomo and lawmakers step in.
"The decision threatens a return to the dysfunctional and demoralizing periods when New York’s judges were denied cost of living adjustments for long, multi-year stretches," Marks said in a statement.
Judge pay up after frozen period
In 2011, lawmakers created the seven-member pay commission and tasked it with periodically setting judges' pay in New York.
At the time, New York judges had seen their pay frozen for the prior 12 years. Judges at the Supreme Court level — the state trial-level court — were being paid $136,700.
Since then, judicial salaries have steadily increased in New York, first with a 27% raise over three years beginning in 2012 and a tie-in to federal judge pay rates starting in 2016.
As of April 1, 2019, state Supreme Court justices were paid the same amount as U.S. District Court judges — $210,900 —while county court judges earn 95% of that and city court judges outside New York city earn 90%.
This year, the pay commission sounded concern about the state's worsening fiscal position, which will see Cuomo and lawmakers try to tackle a major budget deficit fueled by Medicaid costs.
Proposal didn't get the right support
A proposal would have frozen judges' salaries in 2020 before granting them cost-of-living increases in 2021, 2022 and 2023.
But the committee's convoluted voting rules require a proposal to have support from members appointed by Cuomo, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and legislative leaders in order to pass.
It failed to get support from the legislative leaders' appointees: Peter Madonia, appointed by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx; and Seymour Lachman, appointed by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers.
Cuomo appointee Robert Megna, former state budget director, also voted against the proposal.
In a statement, three committee members — Robert Megna, Peter Madonia and Seymour Lachman — said they couldn't support increasing judicial salaries while it's still uncertain how Cuomo and lawmakers will close the budget hole.
Lawmakers are set to reconvene in Albany next month. The state budget is due March 31.
"Unfortunately, challenging fiscal times require thoughtful approaches to multi-year commitments when spending scarce tax dollars," the three members wrote. "At this time, it would not be in accordance with good fiscal practice to establish any multi-year pattern of salary increases for the judiciary."
Judge wants Cuomo, lawmakers to act
Marks called on Cuomo and state lawmakers to pass a law requiring the pay commission to revisit the decision next year.
Absent that, judges won't get a raise until 2024 at the earliest.
"This is entirely unacceptable, and we will be urging the Legislature and the governor in the coming weeks to amend the law to authorize the commission to revisit the issue of judicial salaries next year," Marks said.
Whether lawmakers and Cuomo will act remains to be seen.
The state Legislature's 213 members received their first pay raise since 1999 at the start of this year, bumping their pay up from $79,500 to $110,000.
The pay rate was set by a separate, temporary pay committee, which Cuomo and lawmakers created in 2018 after the existing commission rejected a legislative pay increase the year before.
But planned legislative pay hikes in 2020 and 2021 were scuttled by the state courts, which ruled the temporary committee exceeded its authority by tying those increases to a strict cap on lawmakers' pay for outside work.
Lawmakers also agreed to increase Cuomo's pay from $179,000 to $200,000 earlier this year, with future raises set to push his salary to $250,000 in 2021.
But Cuomo's raise is being challenged in court by the Government Justice Center, a conservative-leaning nonprofit that argues the constitution prohibits the governor from getting a raise in the middle of his term.