A bill that would boost salaries for New Jersey’s judges, cabinet officials, county prosecutors and top legislative aides is up for a final vote Thursday in the state Senate and Assembly.
The measure (S1229/A3685) was part of a controversial proposal to let former Gov. Chris Christie cash in on a book deal while in office. The backroom deal also included a bill that would have ended the requirement that legal notices be published in newspapers, but the whole plan collapsed in 2016.
No longer tied to a book deal or so-called “newspaper revenge” bill, the new legislation has moved much more quietly through the legislature. It’s sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) and other prominent lawmakers.
The bill would give the governor’s cabinet officials—who haven’t had a raise since 2002—a $34,000 salary hike, from $141,000 to $175,000.
The top aides of the Senate president, Assembly speaker and each minority leader would also be able to receive $175,000 annual salaries. Unlike the 2016 bill, the measure does not raise salaries for lower level legislative aides in district offices.
County prosecutors and judges would ultimately get a $24,000 salary increase, phased in over three years. Superior Court judges and county prosecutors currently earn $165,000. Supreme Court justices make $185,000 and the chief justice collects nearly $193,000.
Other county-level officials, such as clerks and sheriffs, would also see their pay rise because their salaries are linked to those of Superior Court judges.
The raises will cost state and county taxpayers roughly $15.6 million annually, once all the salary hikes are phased in after three years, according to an analysis from the Office of Legislative Services.
Proponents say the bill would help the government attract talent by offering competitive salaries.
“What we’re presently offering in salary may not be appropriate against what can be made in the private sector for a person of the intellectual standing, academic standing we need to serve these very, very critical roles,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), a sponsor of the bill.
Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) said he will vote against the measure, even though he thinks there’s a good argument for increasing the salaries of judges and others. But he said state lawmakers need to have a more thorough discussion about who deserves salary hikes given the state’s shaky finances, instead of just “taking care of the people closest to us.”
“No one is having the discussion on the impact on our state budget. I think that is irresponsible,” he said. “We have people who have not gotten salary increases in 10 years.”
It’s unclear whether Gov. Phil Murphy would sign the bill.
A Murphy spokesman said Wednesday that the governor’s office doesn’t comment on legislation until it reaches Murphy’s desk. Murphy, though, has publicly commented on gun control bills that have not yet passed the Senate.