One way to attract votes for a bill in the General Assembly is to increase the number of beneficiaries of that bill. The more House districts benefit from legislation, the larger the number of lawmakers with skin in the game.
That’s apparently what is happening with legislation giving some Superior Court judges $20,000-$30,000 pay raises. Either that or some of the judges left out of an earlier pay raise deal have been very busy lobbying.
A group of lawyer-legislators filed a bill early in the session giving Superior Court judges a $12,000 raise. However, they ran into some opposition because some judges get little or no county supplements to their $120,000 state salary. Some get $50,000-$66,000.
While a Superior Court judge handling cases in Atkinson County in South Georgia was being paid $120,000 a year, a judge in Marietta or Savannah might be pulling down closer to $185,00-$200,000 with all the local add-ons. Giving everybody $12,000 wouldn’t change that disparity.
So the House passed a budget last week that gave raises to Superior Court judges getting local supplements of less than $25,000.
Because the General Assembly sets the state salaries for those judges in law, the House also has to pass a separate bill outlining the pay. The House Appropriations Committee did that Wednesday, but said the state would pay a supplement for those who currently get supplements of less than $30,000. That’s covers the judges in about half of Georgia’s judicial circuits.
The change essentially assures all Superior Court judges would make at least $150,000. And it adds judges in at least six circuits, including those representing Cherokee and Forsyth counties and a circuit partially represented by House Ways & Means Chairman Jay Powell, R-Camilla, the sponsor of the bill, to those that were already going to receive extra money under the House budget.
Under the bill, the biggest boosts will come in two rural South Georgia circuits with low or no county supplements. Judges in the Alapaha circuit, which includes Atkinson, Berrien, Clinch, Cook and Lanier counties, would see $30,000 raises because they get no local supplements now. Judges in a circuit that includes Lee, Macon, Schley, Stewart, Sumter and Webster Counties would get $25,000 raises because they only get $5,000 local supplements now.
In the Alapha circuit, it would amount to a 25 percent pay raise.
Meanwhile, budget writers have included money for 1 percent raises for state employees, who went several years without increases during and after the Great Recession and saw their pay plummet some years because of furloughs.