State attorney general has second highest pay in field

Published 9:17 pm Saturday, July 19, 2008

MONTGOMERY – Alabama, one of America’s poorest states, is home to the nation’s second highest paid attorney general.

Republican Attorney General Troy King makes $163,744 annually – more than quadruple the average annual wage for Alabama taxpayers.

A national survey, released this week by Legal Newsline, found King’s pay is second only to California Democrat Jerry Brown at $184,301. New York’s attorney general is third at $155,500.

“It’s certainly surprising. California and New York are states with significantly larger populations and presumably larger case loads,” said David Lanoue, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama.

So how did Alabama rank between California and New York, two states known for having much higher costs of living than Alabama?

King said the Alabama Legislature passed a law in 1969 that tied the attorney general’s salary to that of associate justices of the Alabama Supreme Court.

“I would have been 1 year old. Nobody can say I had anything to do with it,” King, 39, said in an interview Wednesday.

In 1999, the Legislature boosted the pay of the Alabama Supreme Court to among the highest in the country, and the attorney general’s pay rose with it.

The current pay range for Alabama’s associate justices goes from $155,946 for Justices Tom Parker and Mike Bolin to $194,932 for Justice Patti Smith, with the amount depending on their years of experience as judges.

According to the National Center for State Courts, Alabama’s Supreme Court justices are the seventh highest paid in the nation, with California coming in number one.

Alabama’s justices get a 1.25 percent boost each year for adding another year of experience, up to 20 years of experience. The same raise applies to the attorney general, which means King’s salary will go up again when the state’s new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

King was appointed by Gov. Bob Riley to an unexpired term in 2004 and elected to a full term in 2006. He said he hadn’t known his salary was the second highest in the country.

“I never gave it much thought. The salary is set by statute. When I was appointed I focused on coming in and doing my job,” he said.

Lanoue said the ranking may not be an example of how much King is paid, but an example of how underpaid some attorneys general are î particularly when compared to the private sector.

On the other hand, he said people would still run for attorney general if the pay were half as much because the office is a stepping stone to governor in Alabama.

Alabama is traditionally a poor, low wage state ranking near the bottom of national standings. The most recent report available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that as of May 2007, the average annual wage for Alabama workers was $34,950.

That ranked Alabama 40th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

King’s salary is high within the legal profession in Alabama. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average annual wage for attorneys in Alabama, as of May 2006, was $108,730 î about $55,000 below King’s salary.

King defended the salary by pointing out that he’s not the highest paid attorney in state service in Alabama.

For example, state records show Bill Stephens, general counsel for the state pension program for the last 30 years, makes $294,406 annually. Ralph H. Smith, general counsel for the University of Alabama System, makes $368,963 annually. Auburn University’s general counsel, Lee Armstrong, receives $205,300 annually.

King said his job is the equivalent of being general counsel for a large corporation, and the chief attorneys at large Alabama-based corporations frequently make more than $300,000.

The national study found that the average salary for attorneys general in the 50 states is $117,513 annually.

In Alabama, the most experienced attorneys in state agencies top that. State Personnel Director Jackie Graham said 22 attorneys at state agencies draw the top salary of $136,939 annually.