D.C. Superior, Court and Court of Appeals judges have recieved a hefty pay increase courtesy of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, leaving city officials scrambling to find the nearly $1 million required to fund the unbudgeted increase.
The high court ruled in December that all U.S. judges were entitled to pay raises retroactive to 1979. That meant pay boosts of about $12,000 a year each for their D.C. counterparts because by law, local judges receive 90 percent of what federal jurists are paid.
For the 46 Superior Court judges, the ruling meant an increase from $49,050 per year to $60,390. The nine judges of the D.C. Court of Appeals were raised to $63,810, with portions of both increases retroactive to the beginning of the 1980 fiscal year, Oct. 1, 1979.
The ruling raised anew a nagging problem for the city -- the difficulty of managing a municipal budget changed when court rulings impose extra, unforseen costs.
There are no funds in the city's precariously balanced 1981 budget for the judges' raise. The judges are getting the money, according to Superior Court executive officer Larry Polansky, but the funds are coming out of other accounts.
Several times in recent years, the District of Columbia has had to scramble for funds to implement court rulings requiring services or programs that were not in the budget: more corrections officers, more services to handicapped children, more healthcare centers, more care for the retarded, more shelters for the homeless.
The problems of the deficit-ridden city were not at issue last December when the Supreme Court dealt with the question of salaries for federal judges, including themselves.
The court ruled that Congress had acted unconstitutionally in undoing cost-of-living pay increases for federal judges that already had been put into effect. The Constitution prohibits the reduction of a federal judge's salary during his terms of office.
That ruling did not apply to state judges, but the D.C. Code specifies that judges of Superior Court be paid 90 percent of what federal trial judges receive and judges of the D.C. Court of Appeals get 90 percent of the pay of federal appellate judges.
According to Polansky, "as soon as it was determined that the federal judges should have gotten those increases, District judges were entitled to it, too."
Polansky said it is not the fault of Barry and his aides that D.C. now is caught shortly by the $993,200 needed to meet those payments. He said the city asked Congress a year ago to include the funds in this year's budget in anticipation of the Supreme Court's ruling, and "Congress said it wasn't timely. Congress was fully aware that this might be coming, but they told us to come back for it in this year's budget."
That is what the city now is doing. The funds are included in a supplemental 1981 budget request that Barry submitted to the City Council late Tuesday. The request for a supplemental appropriation, an annual ritual, asks Congress to approve the expenditure of an additional $22.1 million this year.
Most of the money would come from local tax revenues. Tax revenues are expected to exceed the original estimates by more than $17 million, but the city needs congressional authorization to spend the money.
For the rest of the funds, the city is asking Congress to provide an additional $4.6 million in the federal payment for this year, bringing the allocation up to the authorized maximum of $300 million.
The supplemental budget is essential to Barry's attempt to avoid a new budget deficit this year, and he asked the council to approve it by May 4 to comply with congressional timetables.
Yesterday, however, Council Chairman Arrington Dixon told Barry there was "no way" the council could legally act on the request before "May 26 at the earliest."