Pay raises for Colorado’s top of­fi­cials should have come much sooner.

The Denver Post - - NEWS -

Colorado’s elected of­fi­cials have a com­plex job to do, and a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion to serve, but they are paid quite a lot less than their peers in other states. We’ve stood be­hind the idea of rais­ing their salaries over the years, and ap­plaud a plan that makes use of a re­cent law to fi­nally pay th­ese pub­lic ser­vants what they’re worth.

Yes, money is tight at the state level. And crit­ics of high-dol­lar salaries for some city and county elected of­fi­cials across the state are right to ques­tion them.

But we would ar­gue that it is highly un­fair not to have raised pay for top of­fi­cials, like the gover­nor and at­tor­ney gen­eral, since 1999, as is sadly the case.

As The Den­ver Post’s Brian Ea­son re­ported this week, Colorado Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice Nancy Rice has pro­posed pay in­creases for judges that, if granted by state law­mak­ers, would also raise salaries for state elected of­fi­cials. The floats-all-boats as­pect of the pro­posal springs from a law passed last year that we sup­ported.

The new law al­lows that, start­ing in 2019 — or 20 years af­ter their last pay raise — the po­si­tions of gover­nor, lieu­tenant gover­nor, sec­re­tary of state, at­tor­ney gen­eral, trea­surer and state leg­is­la­tors would see their pay rise as a per­cent­age of the raises granted to judges. Which means that, should law­mak­ers ap­prove Jus­tice Rice’s plan for judges, the elected of­fi­cials would see their pay raise, too.

By start­ing the clock tick­ing in 2019, the law pre­vents the cur­rent crop of law­mak­ers and the gover­nor from ap­pear­ing to ap­prove raises that ben­e­fit them di­rectly. That’s a rea­son­able con­cern, but given the dis­par­ity be­tween pay here and else­where, we have ar­gued the in­creases could and jus­ti­fi­ably should have come much sooner.

The ul­ti­mate re­sult would be that the po­si­tion of gover­nor would be paid about $128,000, up from the $90,000 the job brings in presently. (Among the rest of the states, only Maine pays its gover­nor less than Colorado.) That’s a big one-time in­crease, but the to­tal is still far less than, say, the mayor of Den­ver, who presently makes about $171,000.

The lieu­tenant gover­nor, sec­re­tary of state and trea­surer po­si­tions would in­crease from $68,500 to $97,040, and the at­tor­ney gen­eral from $80,000 to al­most $112,000.

State leg­is­la­tors would make about $41,500, in­stead of $30,000.

On the judicial side, pay would in­crease 6.3 per­cent over two years. County court judges’ salaries would rise to about $166,000 and the chief jus­tice on the high court would in­crease to al­most $193,000.

Luis Toro, who di­rects the left­lean­ing Colorado Ethics Watch, ar­gues that pay­ing a fair wage to elected of­fi­cials helps pre­vent the kind of back-door deal­ing that seeks to add wealth un­fairly. The point is a sound one.

Sound, too, is the ar­gu­ment that the state faces short­falls in fund­ing for needed trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture, ed­u­ca­tion and other pri­mary needs that should be ad­dressed first.

But those bat­tles are con­stant in Colorado, and law­mak­ers also have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to make sure those tasked with fight­ing them are fairly com­pen­sated.

We hope Rice’s plan and its po­ten­tial for im­prove­ments across the state meets with suc­cess.

Andy Cross, Den­ver Post file

Colorado elected of­fi­cials and judges would re­ceive pay raises un­der a plan pro­posed by Colorado Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice Nancy Rice.

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