Phoenix voters recently passed two pension reform ballot measures aimed at curbing benefits for new city employees. Although the union-supported plans were more cosmetic tinkering than meaningful actions, they shed light on seriously underfunded and economically unsustainable retirement plans.
Now we hear that the judiciary wants to be spared from similar reforms. The issue was dire enough to bring Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca Berch and Maricopa County Superior Court Presiding Judge Norm Davis down the street to the state legislature to urge the Arizona Senate Finance Committee to exempt judges from a bill that would create a more streamlined 401(k) style retirement plan for future Arizona elected officials — which includes the judiciary.
The Elected Officials’ Retirement Plan (EORP), the most generous of Arizona’s public pension systems, is significantly underfunded and carries a high price tag for taxpayers. To keep the program in place for future recipients, the judges came up with a bit of mathematical wizardry — increased court fees – to subsidize the benefits of future elected officials and judges. These outrageous mandatory surcharges, among the highest in the nation, already add an incredible 83% on top of imposed fines and penalties. Fees, fines and surcharges assessed against criminal defendants are statutory and are imposed statewide. The 23-page fee schedule can be seen here.
The daily reports, the judges provided few specific details during Wednesday’s hearing on the ultimate cost of their plan. They also declined to provide details to a reporter after the hearing. A group representing the judges plans to meet privately Monday with legislators who are pushing for pension reform to craft a deal without public input.
“I’m not here to talk about the details,” Justice Berch told the committee. “Frankly, I think the details ought to be hashed out not in a committee meeting but in a private meeting afterwards.”
The news report also states that for the fiscal year that ended June 30, public funds paid into the trust for elected officials totaled $21.7 million, while contributions from politicians themselves totaled $6.8 million.
A knotty problem indeed. And one that should not be shouldered by those folks engaged in already costly court proceedings. The judges and other politicos might just have to chip in a bit more to ensure their own futures.