ANNAPOLIS — Maryland judges’ salaries will increase by roughly 3 percent annually starting in fiscal 2014, hiking their pay by more than $14,000 over three years.
The House of Delegates signed off on the proposal Tuesday afternoon, conferring with state Senators who passed a resolution detailing the salaries last week.
The 84-47 vote came after nearly an hour of debate during which delegates opposed to the plan tried to reduce the increase to 1 percent annually.
Members of the judiciary received their last raise in 2008. They make an average of $151,852 annually, with the chief judge of the Court of Appeals earning the highest salary of $181,352.
By state law, the General Assembly had to act by March 15 to prevent the far more generous recommendations of the Judicial Compensation Commission from taking immediate effect.
The commission found last year that Maryland trial court judges’ pay now ranks 43rd in the nation when the cost of living is factored in. It recommended increasing judicial salaries by as much as 23 percent between fiscal 2013 and 2016.
According to an analysis by the Department of Legislative Services, the commission’s plan would have cost the state as much as $14 million in fiscal 2016. The plan adopted by the General Assembly is expected to cost $6.8 million.
Supporters said that, while a 1-percent alternative was an attractive option — and would be better received by their constituents — amending the resolution would send it back to the state Senate for approval, effectively killing it and implementing the commission’s recommendation.
Del. Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, said the only reason to support the measure was to avoid the larger financial pitfall.
“I’m voting for this not because I think the judges deserve an increase,” Mizeur said.
Opponents argued the state should not be increasing the salaries as lawmakers work to close a $1.1 billion budget deficit and are considering fee and tax increases.
“We always gauge salaries based upon whether or not we can get qualified people to do a good job, are we competitive, are other people paying more money and are they taking people away from us” said Del. Mike McDermott, R-Worcester. “That’s surely not the case with the Maryland judiciary.”
Others, including the state prosecutor and public defender, members of the Workers Compensation Commission and state’s attorneys, will also see their salaries increase because they are tied to the compensation rate for judges.
Because the measure was passed as a joint resolution rather than a bill, Gov. Martin O’Malley, whose wife is a district court judge, will not have to sign it.