Commission: Governor, justices deserve pay raises

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan’s top elected officials and Supreme Court justices deserve 10 percent pay raises, according to a state board recommendation that may land with a thud in the state Legislature.

The Michigan State Officers Compensation Commission on Friday unanimously recommended the Legislature reverse 10 percent pay and expense allowance cuts from 2010 for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

“After reviewing the data, it was clear that the state’s economy has rebounded sufficiently to justify restoring the compensation levels of the officers back to pre-crisis levels,” said Chairman Joseph Smalley, referencing Michigan’s recovery since the Great Recession.

Beginning in 2019, annual salaries would rise from $159,300 to $177,000 for the governor, $111,510 to $123,900 for the lieutenant governor and from $112,410 to $124,900 for the attorney general and secretary of state.

The six-member board is also recommending a 10 percent bump for state Supreme Court justices, who did not get pay cuts in 2010 but have not received a raise since 2002. They currently earn $164,610 a year.

The recommendations now head to the state Legislature, which has not approved any suggested pay raises since the commission lost power to enact increases itself 15 years ago. The panel recommended a three-percent raise for Supreme Court justices in 2015 but the Legislature did not take it up.

The commission’s new recommendation does not include pay raises for state legislators, who also got 10 percent pay cuts in 2010. House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, has made clear he would not support pay raises for himself and colleagues.

The speaker came out in The Detroit News today indicating he was in favor of a part-time legislature and that the Legislature was overpaid,” commissioner James Hallan said Friday. “We’re trying to be fiduciaries and realize the political reality of the situation we’re in.”

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen Markman addressed the commission Friday, urging members to put an “end to the 17-year pay freeze” for judges on the state’s highest court. He also asked them to make a strong case for raises to state legislators.

Salaries have not kept pace with other judicial positions around the state and country, he said. The average pay for Supreme Court justices in other states has risen from $123,000 to $169,000 since 2002, he said, a 37 percent increase. Michigan justice pay has remained flat.

“We want the best and brightest” justices, said commissioner Mary Kay Shields. “They have a difficult job, and the best and brightest (attorneys) come before them for some of the most important cases in Michigan.”

Gov. Rick Snyder and other statewide officers did not push for pay raises — which would only take effect after term limits forced them out of their current roles — but the commission said adjustments were warranted considering the 2010 cuts and cost of living increases.

“The fear is that the positions, if they’re not adequately compensated, are attractive only to those that are very wealthy or very young trying to make a name for themselves,” Hallan said.

Commissioners openly acknowledged their recommendations may not go anywhere in the state Legislature, where political dynamics make pay raises for elected officials a difficult proposition.

“The speaker hasn’t had a chance to look at the recommendation yet,” Leonard spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said Friday. “He will look at it and give the Legislature time to review it before making any final decisions. He had previously opposed increases for the Legislature, and he is glad to see SOCC agreed with him on that point.”

Commissioners discussed drafting a joint statement to legislators making the case for raises based on data they have reviewed.