Dec 17, 2015 – Weekly Capitol Update

RETIRED JUDGES ASK SUPREME COURT FOR BACK PAY

The Missouri Supreme Court on Dec. 14 heard arguments in the case of two retired judges who filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that state judges were underpaid for two years prior to receiving large pay hikes in July 2014. The plaintiffs are seeking back pay for all judges who were on the bench between July 2012 and July 2014, as well as increases in retirement benefits for those who retired during that period.

The most recent state Salary Commission pay scales for judges were implemented on July 1, 2012, and set pay for state judges at a percentage of what federal judges were earning at that time. A federal court subsequently ruled that Congress had repeatedly miscalculated pay levels for federal judges dating to 1989 and ordered that judicial salaries be adjusted accordingly. Following the federal ruling, state judges argued that their salaries should be increased as well, and on July 1, 2014, they received pay hikes ranging from $17,000 a year for associate circuit judges to $21,000 a year for Supreme Court judges.

Former Jackson County Circuit Judge Peggy Stevens McGraw and former Lawrence County Associate Circuit Judge Samuel Jones both retired before the 2014 pay hikes took effect. As a result, their retirement benefits are set based on substantially lower salaries than if they had retired after July 1, 2014. In their lawsuit the two judges claim the 2014 pay hikes should be implemented retroactively to July 1, 2012, which would entitle them to back pay for the period they claimed they were underpaid prior to retirement and drastically increase their retirement benefits. Senior Judge Frank Conley rejected their claims and dismissed the case in September.

In arguments before the Supreme Court, a lawyer with the Attorney General’s Office said the judges were paid what the law at the time said they were entitled to and that no constitutional authority exists for retroactive pay hikes. An attorney with the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System went a step further and said basing state judicial salaries on what federal judges earn unlawfully delegates state legislative power to the federal government. The Supreme Court will rule on the case at a later date.

 

STATE BOARD APPROVES $3 MILLION FOR STL STADIUM

The Missouri Development Finance Board on Dec. 15 voted 9-1 to extend a $3 million line of credit to the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority to help fund its pursuit of a new $1 billion riverfront football stadium to replace the 20-year-old Edward Jones Dome, home for now to the St. Louis Rams. In August, MDFB authorized $15 million in state tax credits for the project, with another $35 million in credits expected to be approved in the coming years if the stadium moves forward.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, again cast the lone opposition vote. Although Kinder now says public funding for professional sports stadiums should first be approved by the legislature or Missouri voters, he held a different view in 2006 when, as MDFB chairman, he led the board as it unanimously granted the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals a combined $50 million in tax credits to finance renovations at Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums. MDFB provided the credits a year after the General Assembly had rejected funding for the stadium renovations.

Rams owner Stan Kroenke plans to build a $2 billion new stadium for the team in the Los Angeles area, where it played for nearly 50 years before moving to St. Louis in 1995. However, the San Diego Charges and Oakland Raiders are proposing a competing LA stadium that the two teams would share. The National Football League has said it will authorize just one LA stadium and the relocation of two teams and is expected to make a decision in early 2016.

The St. Louis proposal cleared another hurdle on Dec. 15 when the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved an ordinance authorizing city funding for the project. Although the Nixon administration contends existing statutory authority allows the bonds to be sold to finance the projects without further legislative approval, a majority of lawmakers in both the Senate and House of Representatives have signed letters telling Nixon they won’t support appropriating funding to pay back the bonds unless the legislature first signs off on the project.

 

UNEMPLOYMENT HITS LOWEST MARK IN NINE-PLUS YEARS

Missouri’s seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment rate stood at 4.7 percent in November, according to a report issued Dec. 15 by the Missouri Department of Economic Development, falling to its lowest point since April 2006.

The statewide unemployment rate dropped three-tenths of the percentage point from October, when unemployment was at 5 percent. The state’s non-farm payroll gained 2,200 in Missouri, with growth led by the construction industry, which added 1,500 jobs.