Nov 5, 2015 – Weekly Capitol Update

STATE JUDGES TAKE PAY HIKE REJECTED BY LEGISLATURE

Missouri judges took a 1 percent pay increase on July 1, even though the General Assembly in January had rejected the constitutional authorization for the salary hike and didn’t include its $538,000 cost in the fiscal year 2016 state budget. The judicial pay hikes range from an additional $1,343 for associate circuit judges, who now make $135,059 a year, to a bump of $1,656 for state Supreme Court judges, whose annual pay went to $170,292.

Under the Missouri Constitution, the state Salary Commission is supposed to meet biennially to set pay levels for judges, lawmakers and statewide elected officials for the following two fiscal years. Its salary schedule becomes law unless timely rejected by two-thirds supermajorities in both legislative chambers, in which case the most recent pay levels are to remain in place.

In January, the legislature rejected the commission’s recommendations for FY 2016 and FY 2017 that called for big raises for lawmakers and statewide elected officials, who last had a pay hike in FY 2009, and a modest increase for judges, who have received raises more recently. Because lawmakers rejected the 2014 report and no commission was appointed for 2012 – despite the fact that its appointment was constitutionally required — the state is still operating on the commission’s 2010 report, which set pay for state judges at a percentage of what federal judges were to earn in FY 2013.

In taking a raise this year despite the legislature’s rejection of the latest Salary Commission report, a Supreme Court official said the court, which oversees all lower courts, now considers the commission’s 2010 percentage recommendation to be ongoing rather than tied to just FY 2013, according to a Nov. 1 Associated Press story. Under this interpretation, Missouri judges would continue to receive regular, automatic pay increases in perpetuity — even if another Salary Commission report is never approved.

Since the legislature didn’t provide funding for the rejected judicial raises, the judiciary took the money on its own initiative from its overall salary allotment by not filling six vacant positions authorized in the FY 2016 budget. The court didn’t inform the legislature it was doing so when the fiscal year began July 1, and its action went unnoticed until late October.

In the upcoming FY 2017 budget, the judiciary plans to ask lawmakers to backfill the funding they didn’t provide for the FY 2016 raises and provide judges an additional 1.7 percent in salary hike for next year. Lawmakers, however, are under no obligation to honor the funding request. A new Salary Commission is to be appointed by Feb. 1 must submit its report setting pay levels for FY 2018 and FY 2019 by Dec. 1, 2016.

 

DEMOCRATS WIN TWO OF THREE SPECIAL HOUSE ELECTIONS

Democratic candidates won two special House elections in the Kansas City area on Nov. 3 while losing a third in a heavily Republican west St. Louis County district. With the wins, Democrats scored a net pickup of one seat, although Republicans still overwhelmingly control the House of Representatives.

The Democratic pickup came in the 29th District in suburban Kansas City, where Rory Rowland easily won election to replace Noel Torpey, an Independence Republican who resigned to become a lobbyist shortly after winning election to a third term in November 2014.

The other Democratic win came in the 36th District in south Kansas City, with Daron McGee chosen to replace Kevin McManus, a fellow Democrat who resigned from the House over the summer after being elected to the Kansas City Council.

The lone Republican win came in the 89th District, where St. Louis County voters picked Dean Plocher to fill the seat last held by former House Speaker John Diehl, a Republican who was forced to resign in May amid a scandal about his relationship with a teenage Capitol intern.

Barring any further resignations, the House will have a full complement of 163 members for the first time in more than three years when the 2016 legislative session begins on Jan. 4. Republicans will outnumber Democrats 117-45, with one independent.
NET FY 2016 STATE REVENUE GROWTH SLOWS TO 3 PERCENT

Net state general revenue collections through the first four months of the 2016 fiscal year increased 3.05 percent compared to the same period in FY 2015, going from $2.6 billion last year to $2.7 billion this year. Through the first three months of FY 2016, year-to-date net general revenue growth had been running at 3.6 percent.

Net general revenue collections for October 2015 increased just 0.98 percent compared to October 2014, going from $563 million last year to $568.6 million this year.