South Carolina’s top judges could get a big raise on their six-figure salaries this year.
The state’s nine constitutional officers, elected statewide every four years, also could get a pay raise – sorely needed to bring them in line with professionals in similar jobs in other states, a state senator said.
Under the proposal, which a Senate panel tentatively agreed on Tuesday, the S.C. Supreme Court’s chief justice would be paid $180,000 a year, about 15 percent more than the $156,234 the state’s highest judge is paid now.
The increase is less than the 20 percent pay raise that the S.C. Judicial Department requested from lawmakers, saying S.C. judges are paid far less than their colleagues in other states.
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Under the Senate bill, sponsored by state Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, Supreme Court associate justices would be paid $171,000, or 95 percent of the chief justice’s salary.
The salaries for the more than 100 judges on the state’s appeals, family, and circuit courts – now from about $137,000 to $149,000 a year – also would increase. Those judges are paid a percentage of what associate Supreme Court justices are paid.
Administrative law court judges and solicitors prosecuting cases in the state’s 16 judicial circuits also would get a pay raise, under Malloy’s bill.
The bill also would allow for pay raises for the state’s constitutional officers. Those statewide elected officials include the governor, attorney general and superintendent of education. The General Assembly would set their salaries every four years.
Raises for the state’s top officials are long overdue, said Malloy.
For example, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson and state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman each are paid $92,007 a year.
That’s about $50,000 less than the solicitors that Wilson oversees, Malloy said. And Spearman is the second-lowest paid state schools chief in the nation, ahead of only Arizona, whose schools superintendent makes $85,000, according to Education Week. (Mississippi’s schools chief tops the list with a $300,000 a year salary.)
South Carolina’s governor is paid about $106,000 a year, far less than some state agency heads are paid.
Malloy said his proposal, which won support from three Republicans on the panel, is an attempt at “treating jurists and our constitutional officers like the experts they are” and recruiting the “best and the brightest” to seek judgships and the state’s top offices.