Reforming judicial retirement equals big savings for taxpayers (Opinion)
Republicans in the state legislature are committed to saving money for Alabama’s taxpayers. Reforms to teacher and state employee retirement plans were made in 2012 that will save the taxpayers billions of dollars over the next thirty years and beyond. This year, the Legislature passed a landmark reform of the retirement programs for district attorneys, judges, and circuit clerks that is supported by David Bronner, head of the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), and will save our state hundreds of millions of dollars over the next thirty years.
Currently, district attorneys (DAs) contribute nothing towards their retirement plan but receive a very generous post-retirement salary. If a DA earned $148,936 during his last year of service, the state is obligated to pay the retiring DA, who is subject to being called out of retirement, a salary of $111,952 annually for the rest of his life. Under the new law, DAs will pay 8.5% of their salary to fund their retirement and have a minimum retirement age of 62.
Similar to the DA reform, changes to the retirement packages for circuit clerks and judges will save the state millions of dollars by making needed cost-saving modifications. The amount that circuit clerks contribute to retirement will be raised from 6% to 8.5% of their annual salary, and like DAs, clerks and judges will not be eligible to collect retirement until age 62.
The retirement plan for state judges—whether supreme court, district, circuit or probate- has also been modernized. Previously, if a judge retired at age 65 with 12 years of service and a $135,000 salary, the judge would receive an annual retirement of $101,250 for the rest of his lifespan. The reform legislation adjusts the benefit calculator for retirement salaries to encourage judges to serve longer and thereby save state resources.
These provisions require a vote of the people on the November 2016 ballot. If the ballot measure passes, the new retirement plans will go into effect for newly elected DAs, judges, and clerks starting that month.
Judges have a sacred duty to administer the law to ensure justice for all Alabamians, regardless of income or social position. District attorneys are tasked with prosecuting violent criminals and circuit clerks are an essential conduit between the public and the legal system. Many times these public servants forego higher salaries in the private sector to work as officers of the court. This reform strikes a delicate balance of being fair to such officials, while not excessive when compared to compensation plans found in other states.
Given our current budget challenges, this reform is absolutely essential and will save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next thirty years and beyond. The Republican majority in the legislature is committed to long-term, structural reform of state government. More work needs to be done to put Alabama on a sure fiscal foundation, but this is another good step in the right direction.
Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) is chairman of the Alabama Senate General Fund budget committee.