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Courts seek more money for salaries

ST. PAUL — Minnesota judges for years told the public that justice delayed is justice denied, and budget cuts delay justice.

Budget struggles eased two years ago and now court officials seek a budget bump to raise judges and staff members’ pay.

“Our priority last (legislative budget) session was to stop the bleeding,” Chief Justice Lorie Gildea said in an interview.

“So this session, our priority is our people,” she added. “We need all the people we have in order to steer this ship.”

Court workers received one-time raises last year, but no permanent pay increases have come their way for almost five years.

The budget proposed by the courts, and backed by Gov. Mark Dayton, would give staffers 3 percent pay raises each of the next two years. Judges would get 4 percent raises each year, with some of that going to a pension fund.

The proposal for district courts around the state calls for spending $502.8 million for the two years beginning July 1, an increase of $32.5 million.

The Supreme Court budget proposal would spend $87.2 million in the next two years, up $4 million from the current budget cycle. The Appeals Court budget, meanwhile, would rise $1.3 million to $21.7 million.

Legislative committees are considering court spending as part of an overall $38 billion, two-year budget they must pass by May 20.

Early legislative discussion produced a disagreement about whether judges should get more money.

“We would be better off having more judges,” Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said in a recent Senate Judiciary Finance Division hearing. “That would be a better use of our money.”

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.