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Empire Editorial: If Alaska is to live within its means, top brass should too

Posted: December 22, 2013 - 1:10am

When Gov. Sean Parnell unveiled his $12.4 billion budget for next fiscal year, he did so stating Alaska’s need to “tighten our belts” and live within our means. It’s sound advice, considering the projected revenue shortfall in 2014 of nearly $2 billion. We believe the governor’s advice also applies in regards to pay raises for himself, the lieutenant governor and state department heads.

The State Officers Compensation Commission was created for the purpose of reviewing salaries and benefits for high-level administrators and legislators, and is the agency behind the proposed salary increases. The Legislature then votes on the SOCC’s proposal.

The governor’s recently-announced state budget proposal would mean shifting $1.1 billion from reserves to balance Alaska’s spending. That’s in addition to the $1.9 billion that will be moved from savings to balance this year’s budget. If Alaskans are expected to tighten our belts, then Alaska’s top officials should lead by example and do the same.

Parnell said last week he’d decline a pay raise, and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell said he’d honor whatever the Legislature decides, but that he wasn’t “starving on the wage that he’s getting,” according to a Treadwell spokesperson. Both, it should be noted, are running election campaigns (Parnell for governor and Treadwell for the Senate seat held by Sen. Mark Begich).

Under the SOCC proposal, Parnell’s pay would go from $145,000 a year to $150,873, and Treadwell’s would go from $115,000 to $119,658. The governor’s salary was increased by $25,000 in 2011.

The proposed pay raise for Alaska’s 14 commissioners would increase salaries from $136,350 a year to $146,143 effective July 1, 2014. That would be in addition to a 1 percent increase that would take affect the same day, followed by a 2.5 percent increase July 1, 2015.

Without the additional pay hike, state commissioners are already expected to see a $4,800 salary increase by FY2015. If Treadwell isn’t starving on his salary, which is about $30,000 less annually, its doubtful department heads are either.

House Democratic lawmakers said last week they would introduce legislation that would reject the pay raises, but according to Rep. Les Gara they wouldn’t go after the 1 and 2.5 percent pay increases that take affect in July of 2014 and 2015.

In regards to the raises, Gara stressed his disappointment with the lack of additional funding for Alaska’s schools.

“If kids don’t get a raise, I don’t think the governor gets a raise under this fiscal climate,” he told the Associated Press.

Gara’s comment makes it sounds like a quid pro quo situation, and that if the governor were to increase the Base Student Allocation then house Democrats would consider the raises. Funding considerations for each should be kept separate and not used as bargaining chips when the Legislature convenes next month.

The bottom line is that when Gov. Parnell unveiled his conservative budget, which still borrows from state reserves, there shouldn’t be talk of pay increases for department heads who already are earning six figure salaries with pay raises built in for the next two years.

If SB 21 does what Gov. Parnell says it will, there should plenty of money for the SOCC to give Alaska’s top officials a pay increase sometime in the next few years. Until then, all of us — state commissioners, the governor and lieutenant governor included — will live within our means, and it will be the Legislature’s job to ensure we all do so.

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