DENVER– Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey’s request to the city to boost his salary to $232,980 set off a fire storm of critical blogs, but it also sparked questions about salaries paid to attorneys in the Colorado Judicial Branch during the Monday meeting of the Joint Budget Committee.
JBC Vice Chair state Rep. Claire Levy (D-Denver) asked about the Judicial Branch salaries. Included in the budget appropriations last year was a $5.7 million request from the attorney general’s office for staff attorney salary increases.
“They didn’t receive anything,” recalled JBC Chairman state Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver). “They got bread crumbs.”
“One reason I’m asking this is Denver’s District Attorney made quite a splash in the new with his salary request,” explained Levy of a Denver Post story.
“I’m wondering why and what the rationale is for all these salaries,” said Levy.
The attorney general’s office has again asked for $5.7 million to raise salaries, but the JBC will review a study before voting on the appropriation request. Chief Legislative Analyst Carolyn Kampman said that study of benchmark salaries will be provided; the compensation levels are compared to similar positions in the public sector – not the private sector.
“Do those benchmarks at all look at the District Attorneys and their staff?” asked Steadman.
If the survey tracks Colorado’s DAs, it could be a rocky road of charting compensation.
Morrissey’s pay increase, if passed by the Denver City Council, will hike his salary from $201,000 to $232,980 with incremental cost-of-living adjustments by 2016.
The Denver DA serves a population of 619,968 according to the U.S. Census Bureau – a fact noted by a comment to the Denver Post.
“Good thing other people in Denver decided to de-TABOR taxes so the City and County officials can all pat themselves on the back and give each other raises,” wrote the blogger under the name of John Denver.
The blogger noted that “the city ofDallas DAmakes $169,000” a year to serve a population of more than 2.4 million people according to the 2011 U.S. Census.
In November, Denver voters approved a measure to permanently suspend part of the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights to allow the city keep an extra $44 million in tax revenues to fund city services – an estimated $964 million operations budget in 2013.
Compare Morrissey’s salary to 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May. He is paid just $144,000 a year and serves the highest population in Colorado – 636,963 citizens in El Paso County and 23,356 in Teller County.
Second highest paid is 8th Judicial District Attorney Larry Abrahamson receives $196,911 a year and serves 306,895 citizens in Larimer and Jackson counties.
Twentieth Judicial District Attorney Stan Garnett serves 299,387 citizens in Boulder County and is paid $167,700 annually.
The best salaried position may be on the Western Slope – 21st Judicial District Attorney Pete Hautzinger’s annual salary of $154,216 surpasses Mesa County’s population of 147,216 folks.
And all of those annual salaries exceed the $90,000 paid to Governor John Hickenlooper, $80,000 to Attorney General John Suthers and $68,000 each to Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Secretary of State Scott Gessler. And Gessler did complain when restrictions were placed on his ability to earn outside income.
Morrissey’s $31,980 cost-of-living increase is more than the $30,000 salary paid to state legislators. That doesn’t factor in per diems for legislators, but then Morrissey is also compensated with mileage and expense reimbursements – and a benefits package.