Budget conference: House and Senate agree to bump prosecutor by pay nearly $10M

trial lawyers
State Attorney Offices have faced a brain drain as prosecuting lawyers' salaries have been compressed.

House and Senate negotiators have closed a nearly $10 million gap on budget lines that address salaries in State Attorney Offices, with the Senate agreeing to the full amount the House negotiators proposed. 

The two sides adding money that’s going into trust funds regarding salaries was cause for cautious optimism in prosecuting offices where pay limits have led to an exodus and a shortage of lawyers willing to act on the state’s behalf. The private sector is often more rewarding. Before last year, Assistant State Attorneys had gone three years without a pay raise.

Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward’s office has been down more than 40% from full strength and the situation was so dire, the state sent temporary lawyers to help him staff the county’s courtrooms. He currently is down six out of 19 Assistant State Attorneys.

He’s said he’s waiting to see how the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association divides up the new money — or if it’s going to translate into new money for salaries to be distributed this year — before he declares his office in a good position to attract legal talent.

Zillow puts the average rental in Key West at $4,375, which would be deemed “affordable” to someone on a salary of about $144,000. The county is currently advertising an Assistant State Attorney position at $80,000.

The budget document says that the biggest biggest chunk of the increase, $5.5 million, goes to “added salary and locality pay additive.”

The budget also shows the two sides have agreed to $2.1 million for cost-of-living adjustment for all staff. Another $1.4 million would go toward alleviating salary compression and $480,310 for “salary and benefits adjustment.”

Last year’s legislatively approved pay raises bumped starting prosecutor salaries at the Broward County State Attorney’s Office by 20%, to $60,000 a year. But that’s still lower than the county’s median salary of $62,522, according to the U.S. Census. And it’s not enough to afford the average rent in Fort Lauderdale, which is at $2,711 for a 959-square-foot apartment, according to RentCafe.com.

Financial experts recommend budgeting the rent and mortgage at 30% of one’s monthly pay. With that guideline, starting prosecutors would have to find a place for $1,500 a month.

Harold Pryor, the Broward County State Attorney, said he’s made multiple trips to Tallahassee to advocate for prosecutors working in the priciest part of the state, speaking to both Democrats and Republicans.

“I understand how important this is for government attorneys and staff in the tri-county area and I have taken up the mantle in being an advocate for this cause,” he said. “We all agree that public safety is paramount and we all agree that we need both experienced and adequately paid public servants to do this important work.”

Budget conference subcommittees will meet throughout the week to resolve differences in each area. When remaining issues reach an impasse, they will be “bumped” to the full budget conference committee.

Lawmakers must reach an agreement on a final spending plan by May 2 to meet the 72-hour “cooling off” period required by the state constitution before they can vote on the budget to avoid pushing the Regular Session past its scheduled May 5 end date.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].

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