State to skip raises for top leaders

Posted: Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Gov. Sean Parnell and other top state officers won't be getting pay raises next year.

The Alaska Legislature previously had passed a bill establishing a State Officer Compensation Commission to decide the politically risky question of pay raises for politicians and other top state leaders.

The commission upped legislative pay in 2008, an increase that took effect this year, but former Gov. Sarah Palin rejected their proposal to increase the governor's salary and the commission withdrew it before submitting it to the Legislature.

Commission members said they still believed higher pay for the governor was a good idea, but that they'd revisit it in the future.

The commission has passed the deadline to submit recommendations for this year's legislative session, however.

"Given the economic situation, we'd just felt we'd leave things alone," said Gordon Harrison of Juneau.

Nicki Neal, director of the state's Division of Personnel and Labor Relations, said the upcoming 2010 election year also played a role in the commission's decision to not implement pay increases.

Neal is the staff person for the five-member commission, which is chaired by former Sen. Rick Halford of Eagle River, a former president of the Alaska Senate. Other members are Harrison, former Sen. President Mike Miller of Fairbanks, Rick Koch of Kenai and Tom McGrath of Anchorage.

Halford and Miller were recommended for their positions by the Legislature as part of the law creating the State Officers Compensation Commission.

Despite the decision not to recommend a salary effect for the governor, which would have been implemented after the election, Harrison said he still believes it is needed.

When the commission reviewed the matter last year, there were 175 state employees with salaries above that of the governor.

"I was personally prepared to go through with ... the governor's raise, but nobody else seemed to be so I didn't push it," Harrison said.

Palin had rejected the pay raise last year, saying that an increase shouldn't happen until after an election had passed.

Parnell has not commented on the proposal, said spokeswoman Sharon Leighow.

According to the commission, Alaska's governor was the fourth-highest paid in the nation in 1985, while in 2008 it was 27th.

"Clearly, compensation for our chief executive officer has not kept pace with salary increases for this office in the rest of the nation," the commission's 2009 report said.

There have also been concerns expressed that commissioner salaries are not competitive with private industry,

"Some people think they are not high enough, but we have to gather more information on that," Harrison said.

Leighow said the Parnell administration would not be seeking higher pay for commissioners.

"It is up to the salary commission to analyze the commissioner salary levels, not the administration," she said.

The commission still hopes to develop a system for regular increases for inflation, Neal said. It will hold a work session in Juneau later this week to talk with representatives of companies and other agencies about how that might be done.

A public hearing would be held before any recommendations are forwarded to next year's Legislature, she said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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