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House Panel OKs Bill to Quash Pay Hikes (Feb 15, 2012)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A bipartisan proposal to scuttle pending pay hikes for Oklahoma judges, district attorneys and statewide elected officials easily cleared a House committee Wednesday.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, and House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, jointly introduced a resolution disapproving of the proposed 6 percent pay raise for Oklahoma judges. It passed 11-0, with one member abstaining, and now heads to the full House.

"As we begin to climb out of the recession and as we look at a flat budget this year ... we just do not feel like the resources are there to sustain this projected pay increase," Steele said. "It is in no way an indictment of the job they do."

The Board of Judicial Compensation in September recommended a 6 percent pay raise for judges in Oklahoma, and the salaries of statewide elected officials are tied to judicial salaries. The salaries of judges in Oklahoma range from about $105,000 for special judges to $147,000 for the state's chief justice.

A 6 percent raise in judicial salaries would have cost an estimated $2.5 million annually, according to Mike Evans, the administrative director of the courts.

Inman said the corresponding raises for statewide elected officials, which would take effect after their next election, would have cost the state about $350,000 annually.

"This is just simply not the year to do that," Inman said.

A similar board that considers whether to increase the pay for state lawmakers voted unanimously last year to keep their annual salary at $38,400, similarly explaining that a pay raise couldn't be justified given the economic downturn.

The annual salaries of Oklahoma's statewide elected officials range from $105,053 for the labor commissioner to $147,000 for the governor.

Inman said House Democrats are exploring whether to introduce a bill that would "disentangle" the salaries of the executive branch from the judicial branch.

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