LANSING, Mich. (MIRS News) – The State Officer Compensation Commission (SOCC) Wednesday recommended that Michigan Supreme Court justices receive a 7% salary increase, but no raises for the other elected state officials, out of concern the Legislature wouldn’t approve it anyway.
The Attorney General’s office testified that the AG needs a “significant” increase. The position currently pays $112,410 a year. In 2002, when the position last received a raise, the pay was $124,900 a year. In today’s dollars, that salary would be $213,947 a year.
One SOCC member recommended a 25% pay increase across the board – governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, supreme court justice and state legislator – but nobody else went along with it because it wasn’t politically realistic.
“When I was first appointed to this commission and received the materials, I was shocked, literally shocked to see the salaries and the fact that they have not increased in more than a decade,” said Commissioner Lawrence Nolan Sr., who made the motion.
Chief Justice Elizabeth Clement and Justice Brian Zahra went before the commission to argue that the Supreme Court justices are getting paid less than Michigan Court of Appeals judges.
Commissioner Paula Zelenko and Nancy Quarles briefly discussed a 5% increase.
Zelenko made a motion to raise the Supreme Court by the 7% asked for by the justices, and she was backed by Quarles. The final vote was 5-2, with Nolan and Commissioner Tom Cochran voting no.
SOCC Chair Robert Emerson said the funding existed to give elected officials a raise.
“I was budget director during the four years when the revenues were going like a ski slope and I didn’t know how to ski,” Emerson said. “But we were treading water.”
Emerson was the budget director during the Great Recession in 2009 when there was a 10% cut to the justices and an 11.11% cut for everyone else. It was the first change in salary since a ballot proposal in 2002 that mandated all SOCC recommendations be approved by the Legislature.
Salaries for state elected officials, except Supreme Court justices, have been frozen since.
In 2013 and 2015, SOCC recommended raises for the justices, but the Legislature did not pass those.
In 2017, SOCC tried to reverse 11.11% from 2009, and raise justices 10%. That was shot down by the Legislature.
In 2019, there was a recommendation for two 5% increases for justices. Since it passed during the lame duck session, it didn’t take effect until Jan. 1 as a single 10% increase.
“Two years ago I recommended 2%, which I thought was pretty innocuous and I thought it was pretty hard for someone to say ‘I can’t do this because of the politics,” Emerson said.
The Legislature never took it up.
“It puts a terrible onus on them to come out and vote to approve increases for themselves, because it always appears self-serving and gets used politically against them,” Emerson said.
Commissioners all agreed that something needed to be done to be able to get elected officials a raise or in the near future there would be nobody willing to serve in public and those who did, would have ulterior motives.
“Something’s broken. I don’t know if we have the ability to fix it,” Nolan said.