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Commission ponders future of state raises

Posted: Monday, February 08, 2010

The state's salary commission intends to raise the salary of the state's governor and top department heads sometime in the future, and may even do away with most of its own job of setting salaries.

The commission last year raised legislative pay, which it said was so low it was a crisis, and boosted pay for state commissioners as well. Then-Gov. Sarah Palin rejected an increase, however, and pay for the governor and lieutenant governor remained unchanged.

Members of the State Officer Compensation Commission met in Juneau Wednesday to hear from experts and discuss their future plans for more salary increases.

The commission this year did not recommend any raises for the officials for which it establishes pay rates, including legislators, the state's two elected executive positions, and the members of the governor's cabinet, who serve as department heads.

There was general consensus among commissioners and their guests that Alaska's governor -- which was once one of the best paid in the nation but now is paid less than 170 other state employees -- needs a raise.

"Personally, I think it ought to be the highest paid person in state government," said Jake Metcalfe, business manager for the Public Safety Employees Association. "I see the president of the university makes $300,000, and I think the governor is more important than that position."

The commission's recommendations won't be taken up until next year's legislative session, after the fall general election. It is scheduled to issue a preliminary recommendation by Nov. 15.

Sometime between now and then, likely beginning in August, the commission will come up with a salary amount, said Rick Halford, the commission's chairman.

One of the reasons for raising the governor's pay is because Gov. Sean Parnell is now paid less than some members of his cabinet.

"It does make sense to not pay the cabinet more than the governor," Halford said.

Jim Duncan, a union leader and former Juneau legislator, said the governor should be paid more than department heads, even though individuals who want to be governor don't do it for the money.

"They want to be governor," he said. "They've got some policy ideas and they want to implement those."

Halford said he was also concerned that too many state employees were paid too little compared to private industry counterparts.

"That's dangerously insidious," he said. "If you are a specialized regulator, your next job is coming out of the industry and they know it."

Commissioners said they'd also like to come up with a system which provided for regular pay increases, possibly linked to employee pay or a cost-of-living index. That could make the commission able to be abolished, they said.

That might not work, warned commissioner Gordon Harrison. If the system got out-of-whack, there would be no way to fix it. That's what happened with the Legislature when it went more than two decades without an official pay raise, he said.



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