Oklahoma: House and Senate vote to end practice of tying salaries of executive branch officials to judges

The Oklahoma House and Senate have voted to repeal laws that tie the salaries of executive branch officials to judges. Versions of SB 549 were approved 42-0 in the Senate in March and in the House 91-1 on April 20. The House and Senate differ on the creation of a new Board on Executive Compensation that would function in much the same way as the state’s Board on Judicial Compensation functions: Board recommendations become binding unless override by the legislature.

Oklahoma’s process of tying salaries of executive officials to judges started in the 1990s. The governor of Oklahoma for example “shall receive a salary equal to the salary received by the Chief Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.” The result (discussed here) has been years of rejected salary increases recommended by the state’s Board on Judicial Compensation for judges by the legislature because the increases would have also raised other salaries.

The linkages culminated in the topsy-turvy situation in 2014 when the state’s Governor and other executive officials (whose salaries were tied to appellate judges) announced they did not want raises. The legislature then increased trial court judges only, making Oklahoma the only state in the U.S. where trial judges made more then their appellate counterparts.

SB 549 instead sets specified amounts (“The Governor shall receive a salary of One Hundred Forty-seven Thousand Dollars ($147,000.00)”) and provides the new Board on Executive Compensation can increase them.

The bill now goes back to the Senate to approve or reject the House amendment creating the Board on Executive Compensation.