A bill introduced on day one of the 2021 Legislature would give Nevada’s district court and appellate judges $30,000 a year pay raises.
But it’s not what it looks like. Chief Justice Jim Hardesty said Senate Bill 3 is designed to clean up several “anomalies” in the statutes controlling the judicial branch that have been enacted over the years.
First, he pointed out that those pay raises won’t actually take place for six years since all the district court judges, all three appellate judges and all but three Supreme Court justices were just elected in November and the Nevada constitution prohibits raising or lowering the salary of any elected official in Nevada during their term in office. To get the raises, he said those judges would have to run for and win a new term in office.
He pointed out the last time state judges got a pay raise was January 2009. Since the new raises wouldn’t take effect until 2027, he said that would be 18 years without a raise.
Second, Hardesty said the plan ends up being far less expensive than it looks because, as part of SB3, the 2 percent per year in longevity pay judges and justices receive up to a maximum of 22 percent over base pay will go away.
He said the potential cost of the raises would be almost completely offset by the end of longevity pay and turnover as long time judges retire. He said by 2023, the net cost would be no more than $99,000.
“The fiscal impact is even less in 2025,” he said.
Hardesty said the bill also fixes the disparity between judges in how they pay for their retirement system premiums. Judges and justices who first took office in 2015 on more recently currently pay half of their retirement premiums — 11 percent of their salaries. But Hardesty said judges who have been on the bench longer than that don’t pay the Public Employee Retirement System premiums. Hardesty said the majority of the state’s 90 district judges get their PERS contributions paid by the state.
SB3 exempts those new judges as well.
It is worth noting that it would be unconstitutional to try to force longtime judges to retroactively pay their premiums.
SB3 also fixes the issue of how long judges in Nevada go between pay raises by instituting an inflation-based formula to review compensation every six years. Hardesty said it is patterned after the system used to adjust salaries of other elected officials including constitutional officers. Those elected officials, like judges, would still have to win a new term to get the new pay rate.
In SB3, the salaries of Supreme Court justices would increase from $170,000 annually to $200,000. Appellate court salaries would rise from $165,000 to $195,000 and district judges’ salaries from $160,000 to $190,000.
While that sounds like a lot of money, Hardesty pointed out that some lawyers working for Nevada cities and counties already make more than the judges they appear before.
SB3 was introduced by the Senate Finance Committee and referred back to that committee for review.