Joint Finance Cuts $3.5 Million for State Attorney Pay Progression

MacIver News Service | May 24, 2013

[Madison, Wisc…] The Joint Committee on Finance voted on Tuesday to modify Governor Scott Walker’s provision to create a pay progression plan for Assistant Attorneys General (AAGs) and State Public Defenders (ASPDs) and reduced spending by $3.5 million.

Under current law, ADAs are due annual increases of $4,120, but can be denied a raise or given a raise as high as 10 percent at the supervising district attorney’s discretion. The minimum salary for all state attorneys is $49,429 while the maximum salary is $119,471. This means that an ADA making $50,000 could get a $5,000 raise in one year and an ADA making $100,000 could get an increase in pay as high as $10,000.

The Governor’s proposal would have created a similar pay progression system for AAGs and ASPDs. This raises questions of fairness because, excluding emergency personnel, attorneys would be the only public employees eligible for raises above the rate of inflation. Under Act 10, public employees are prevented from bargaining for increased wages above the rate of inflation.

Supporters of the proposal tried to justify the salary increases by arguing that we need to increase salaries to retain employees, but there is no clear sign that dissatisfaction with salary is motivating attorneys to leave their positions.

Compared to other states in the East North Central Region, Wisconsin’s prosecutors and public defenders make significantly more than their peers with less than one year of experience or more than 15 years of experience. For those with five years of experience, the salaries of Wisconsin’s public defenders and prosecutors were slightly lower than their regional counterparts.

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It is opposite for AAGs. Those with less than one year of experience and those with more than 15 years of experience make slightly less than their peers in the region, but those with five years experience have somewhat higher salaries.

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Those in favor of the proposal argue that less time and money will be spent on recruiting new employees. However, recruitment has not been a problem without pay progression. In 2011 and 2012, the Department of Justice had four rounds of recruitment in which they hired 23 attorneys from 688 applicants which means there were about 29 applicants per position.

The Committee decided to create a pay progression plan for ADAs, AAGs, ASPDs, and Deputy District Attorneys that would cost the state less money. The plan allows for incremental steps each year in salary up to a certain point. The salary increase would stop at Step 3 of the 17-step pay progression plan modeled under 2011 Act 238.

Several counties also asked for funding to convert part time ADA positions in to full time positions. JFC voted to allow this funding and created full time ADA positions in Ashland, Chippewa, Columbia, Oconto, St. Croix, Sauk, and Waushara counties at a cost of $604,400.

JFC will meet next Wednesday at 10am.