JUNEAU — House Democratic lawmakers announced plans Friday to introduce legislation that would reject proposed pay raises for Alaska’s governor and other top state officials.
Reps. Les Gara and Scott Kawasaki said it would be wrong to allow the raises at the same time other areas of the budget are being cut and Gov. Sean Parnell is calling for spending restraint amid a sharp drop in expected revenues.
House Democrats have said funding proposed by Parnell for education during the next fiscal year is inadequate. Gara, for example, would like to see per-pupil funding for students increased.
“If kids don’t get a raise, I don’t think the governor gets a raise under this fiscal climate,” said Gara, D-Anchorage.
On Saturday Parnell said he’ll decline a pay increase for himself but believes proposed wage hikes for state agency heads should go forward.
In a statement, the governor’s office said Parnell will ask a salary commission and the Legislature to honor his request.
The State Officers Compensation Commission, created to review salaries, benefits and allowances for top office holders and legislators, has proposed raising the governor’s salary from $145,000 a year to $150,873. The lieutenant governor’s salary would go from $115,000 to $119,658. Each would get another 2.5 percent increase beginning July 1, 2015, under the proposal.
Salaries for the heads of the 14 main state departments, mainly referred to as commissioners, would go from $136,350 to $146,143 a year.
Nicki Neal, director of the state Division of Personnel and Labor Relations, has said the increases would be effective July 1, unless a bill disapproving all the recommendations is enacted within 60 days after the recommendations are submitted.
Gara said the Democrats’ bill would do away with those proposed increases. But he said it would retain the increases for department heads of 1 percent beginning July 1, and 2.5 percent beginning July 1, 2015, in keeping with an employee compensation bill that passed during the last legislative session.
He said he hopes to find bipartisan support for the legislation.
Neal said by email Friday that the recommendations made to date by the current commission, which was created in 2008, have not been disapproved by the Legislature.
In October, Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said the governor believed the suggested salary increases were reasonable and looked forward to the issue being fully vetted in the public through the legislative process.
She said by email Friday that the issue “is in the hands of the Legislature now.”
On Thursday, Parnell released a $12.4-billion budget plan for next fiscal year that he said is focused in part on the state living within its means. The proposal, which legislators have yet to begin work on, would require $1.1 billion from reserves to balance.
State officials have blamed a shortfall in revenues on factors including lower-than-expected oil prices, decreased oil production, residual effects of the outgoing oil tax system, such as the closeout of credits, and higher-than-expected deductible lease expenditures.
Parnell said Thursday the state must “tighten our belt” on spending and use savings to help get by with oil prices lower. His budget office also said it expected a need to move $1.9 billion from savings to balance this year’s budget because of lower revenue.
Michelle Toohey, a spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, said he was unavailable for comment Friday but directed a reporter to Treadwell’s prior statements about the pay raise.
Treadwell, who is running for U.S. Senate next year rather than seeking re-election, has said he’s not “starving on the wage that he’s getting, and he’s not looking to increase his wealth or get rich while serving either,” according to an earlier statement released by Toohey.
She expected he would support whatever decision the Legislature made regarding his salary.
The commission, in its 2009 recommendations, eliminated a proposed increase in the governor’s salary after then-Gov. Sarah Palin said she wouldn’t take the extra money. Palin, who was in the midst of her first term at the time, was replaced by Parnell when she resigned in July 2009.