ANCHORAGE - Thanks to Gov. Frank Murkowski, Alaska commissioners got a hefty raise, becoming some of the country's priciest state department heads.
Murkowski, who chose the maximum amount, bumped their annual salaries by 37 percent, from $91,200 to $124,752. The increase comes from a new law that lets the governor set salaries.
"The governor has been concerned about the ability to recruit and retain competent, qualified and excellent commissioners," administration spokeswoman Becky Hultberg said.
The increase puts most of Alaska's 14 commissioners in lavish company when compared to their counterparts in other states. Ten Alaska commissioners, for example, are among the 15 highest paid in the nation compared against a survey of annual department-head salaries released last month by The Council of State Governments, according to Alaska Newspapers Inc.
The Lexington, Ky.-based council provides trend analysis for state governments.
Department of Fish and Game Commissioner McKie Campbell's wage is second only to the $129,418 made by his counterpart in California.
Tom Irwin is the seventh costliest Natural Resources commissioner.
Greg O'Claray and Bill Corbus are the nation's eighth most expensive Labor and Revenue commissioners.
Education Commissioner Roger Sampson is the only Alaska commissioner who didn't make the top 21. His salary is in 30th place, behind the $126,071 paid to New Mexico's education commissioner.
Minority party leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said the pay raise contrasts starkly with the governor's strong effort to change state pension retirement packages to 401k-type accounts.
"The administration repeatedly argued for higher compensation salary packages for commissioners, and yet at the same time, they were working hard to gut the employee benefit package," he said. "They were willing to take care of the bosses, but not the people that are working."
Public Safety Commissioner Bill Tandeske, compared to his counterparts who head state police, ranks 12th in the nation. He said the raises will keep commissioners in their posts longer.
"There's a lot of competition out there for talent," he said. "In terms of attracting people to serve in very demanding jobs (the increase) was very appropriate."
Hultberg said former commissioners Kevin Duffy and Ernesta Ballard have found higher-paying jobs in the private sector.
"From the outside person looking in these look like very high salaries, and they are high," she said. "But it's simply a matter of ensuring that people serving the state are very high-caliber and that we can retain them when they could be making more in the private sector."