JUNEAU — The Senate Finance Committee on Friday advanced a bill that would reject recommended pay increases for top state officials.
Committee co-chair Kevin Meyer said he supported the recommendations of the State Officers Compensation Commission. But with the state in deficit spending, Meyer said the timing was not good.
The compensation commission recommended raising the salaries of the governor, lieutenant governor and department heads, mainly referred to as commissioners, to catch up with pay increases for other executive-branch employees. It called for raising the governor’s salary from $145,000 a year to $150,873, effective July 1, and the lieutenant governor’s salary from $115,000 to $119,658. It proposed giving each another 2.5 percent increase beginning July 1, 2015.
The commission also called for raising the salaries of the main department heads from $136,350 to $146,143, with an increase of 2.5 percent beginning July 1, 2015.
It recommended that deputy commissioners who become commissioners in the same department with no break in service keep their current salary and subsequent statutory increases in pay if they make more than the commissioner. The panel, in its final report, said 13 of 23 deputy commissioners receive higher salaries than their respective commissioner, with some making more than the recommended increase in pay for department heads.
Recommended raises for the governor, lieutenant governor and department heads would cost about $227,500 next year and $8,675 in fiscal year 2016, according to an estimate cited in the report.
Gov. Sean Parnell in December said he would decline the recommended pay increase for himself, in light of budget constraints. But he urged lawmakers to approve the increase for commissioners.
The recommended increases will be effective July 1 unless a bill disapproving them all is enacted within 60 days after the recommendations are submitted, the director of the state Division of Personnel and Labor Relations has said.
The bill considered by the finance committee, SB125, is one of several bills that have been introduced that would reject the recommendations.
Four finance committee members recommended to the full Senate that SB125 pass: Meyer and Sens. Pete Kelly, Click Bishop and Donny Olson. Sen. Lyman Hoffman made no recommendation. Sens. Mike Dunleavy and Anna Fairclough recommended amend, though the proposal is packaged as a take-it-or-leave-it deal.
Fairclough, R-Eagle River, said she agreed with other members that this is the wrong time for raises. But she also said it is “inherently wrong” for a deputy commissioner to make more than a commissioner. She asked if it was possible when the commission looks at the issue again to make separate recommendations and not have them all in the same bundle.
Olson, D-Golovin, said considering the state’s budget situation and the recent announcement by Royal Dutch Shell that it planned to suspend operations off Alaska’s Arctic shores in 2014 and possibly withdraw for good, “I see a dismal future out there. And to go ahead and increase (pay) certainly is not going to increase the public’s sentiment toward elected officials if we go ahead and start increasing people’s pay during this very difficult time.”
Olson had earlier suggested that people running for office — particularly with the executive branch — aren’t running for the pay but for the chance to do a service to the state and affect public policy.
There was also talk about people taking pay cuts by leaving the private sector to run for office or taking a top state job. Bishop counted himself among those.
Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said there is a philosophical angle to consider.
“We do tend to attract the best and the brightest on a lot of levels,” he said. “I would actually prefer that they were in the private sector because that’s what really drives our economy.”
Kelly said if the state doesn’t attract the best and brightest, “I’m OK with that,” adding later: “Our focus should be on not competing with the private sector.”
Kelly, however, had indicated there were some top office holders, like the attorney general and commissioners of Natural Resources and transportation, he would not want the state to lose over salary. He doesn’t think the state had as much of an “acute compensation problem” with the other commissioners, Kelly said.