Pay raises for Colorado’s top officials should have come much sooner.
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.
Colorado elected officials and judges would receive pay raises under a plan proposed by Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice.