Legislators to pocket $33K pay raises under bill now awaiting governor’s OK

Republicans denounce the planned hikes as ‘self-serving and unnecessary’

By: - January 8, 2024 6:48 pm

Assemblyman Jay Webber vowed to give away his pay raise if Gov. Phil Murphy signs a bill into law to boost state lawmakers' salaries by $33,000 a year. (Photo by Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

New Jersey lawmakers voted Monday to give themselves a fat pay raise that would make them among the best-compensated legislators nationally if Gov. Phil Murphy signs the measure into law, as expected.

The move came with some grumbling from the Assembly’s Republican members, who denounced the anticipated annual salary bump — from $49,000 to $82,000, beginning in 2026 — as unnecessary for a part-time Legislature that only meets about half the year. For 120 legislators, it adds up to almost $4 million in extra pay a year.

“It’s going to be viewed as self-serving and deepen the cynicism among our constituents,” said Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris).

If the governor green-lights the raises, Webber said, he would give his away — and he asked his colleagues to do the same.

“If you’re voting on it today … give it away and show your constituents that you’re not here to serve yourselves, you’re here to serve the public,” he said.

Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger (R-Monmouth) urged Assembly members to consider New Jersey’s “chronically high” property and income taxes and “stand in solidarity with the taxpayer” by voting against the bill.

“The last thing we as legislators should be doing is increasing the salaries of members of the Legislature,” Scharfenberger said.

The Assembly passed the measure by a vote of 46-25, largely along party lines. In the Senate, the bill passed without discussion by a 26-7 vote, similarly along party lines.

The proposal arose during the lawmakers’ lame-duck session, the time after the November general election and before the new legislative session starts, when they tend to speed through their most controversial proposals to dodge public reprisals at the polls. Monday was the last day of their 2022-23 session, with reorganization and swearing-ins scheduled Tuesday.

New Jersey lawmakers’ pay hasn’t increased since 2002, and the measure passed Monday would lift legislative salaries in New Jersey higher than all but four states — New York, Pennsylvania, California, and Illinois, which have full-time legislatures. It also includes pay hikes for senior legislative staff, cabinet officials, and some others.

Critics complained the change should come with discussions about making the Legislature full-time and banning outside employment. Most legislators now work jobs with flexible schedules, like attorneys and business owners, but critics charge that outside employment poses ethical concerns and could make policymakers more susceptible to corruption.

Sen. Dick Codey (D-Essex), the retiring senator sponsoring the bill, said pay raises would ensure government stays competitive with the private sector.

“As it stands, it has been more than 20 years since legislators have had their pay increased, which makes it harder for people who are not independently wealthy to run for office. The $49,000 salary of 24 years ago would be worth over $86,000 today,” Codey said.

He pointed to the ongoing judge shortage, which has created crippling case backlogs in some jurisdictions and prompted some to suspend civil and divorce trials.

“We have a crisis due to a lack of judges, a crisis that is only amplified by the fact many qualified candidates are unwilling or unable to take a significant pay cut to become a judge,” he said. “In many parts of government, we have high turnover and struggle to attract new applicants because of pay rates that are not competitive with the private sector. If we are to solve this problem, there is no other way than raising the compensation for these jobs.”

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.

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