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Missouri judges get pay increase

January 28, 1999
By: Edward Klump
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri judges will be receiving an 11 percent pay raise on average, but state lawmakers won't get a similar salary hike thanks to legislative inaction Thursday.

Since the General Assembly couldn't agree on what to do with the 1998 recommendations of a citizens' salary commission, which recommended the increases, the plan will automatically go into effect.

Under Missouri's constitution, the commission's recommendations take effect unless rejected by both the House and Senate.

While the 1998 recommendations will raise the salary of judges, they also override a salary hike for lawmakers contained in a 1996 commission report.

That 1996 report was rejected by the legislature in 1997. But the Cole County circuit court subsequently held the legislature's rejection was improperly adopted. Attorney General Jay Nixon appealed the ruling the state Supreme Court -- leaving the 1996 pay hikes in limbo.

But when the 1998 pay scale takes effect, the 1996 recommendations become moot.

The deadline for legislative action on the 1998 recommendations is Sunday night -- before the legislature returns Monday afternoon.

During the Senate debate Thursday, Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, said past action of the legislature is to blame for the current mess. He said the salary commission was developed in good faith, but both chambers need to make sure their members don't give themselves pay raises.

Sen. Franc Flotron, R-St. Louis County, said the commission is a major cause of problems.

"We've just created a nightmare for ourselves with the salary commission," he said. "We have created a situation where there is no individual who can be held responsible for it, and that is foolish."

Still, Maxwell said the race to the finish could have been avoided if the Senate had better communicated with the House. A resolution to halt the commission's recommendations bounced back and forth between the chambers for several hours Thursday.

The Senate pushed a contingency plan that would have guaranteed the legislature authority to appropriate money for judges' salaries, regardless of the impending state Supreme Court decision.

House members argued the Senate plan was unconstitutional.

The diverging opinions over the Senate's plan ultimately led to both chambers adjourning without a vote on the 1998 resolution.

Maxwell said past legislation has been contingent on judicial rulings, such as last year's desegregation bill.

Before the Senate finally adjourned Thursday, Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said the House should not be held responsible since it was just following the constitution.

"They can reject it, or taxpayers can thank them for a raise in judicial salaries," he said.