A pay raise for the governor?

Posted: Friday, December 10, 2010

The Alaska State Officers Compensation Commission is taking another look at whether the state's governor and lieutenant governor should get a raise.

We think that's a good idea to at least consider.

The governor's current salary is $125,000 a year. The lieutenant governor salary is $100,000. The commission is currently hearing from the public on its recommendation to increase the governor's annual salary to $175,000; and boost the lt. gov. to $135,000.

If that happened, and it's by no means cast in stone now, the state's chief executive and second-in-command still would not be the highest paid state employees, not by a long shot.

Currently there are 19 employees in the executive branch and 10 employees of the judicial branch who make more, including the chief justice, who earns $182,956.

Even the governor's commissioners make $135,000 now.

Compared with the other 49 states, Alaska's governor earns slightly above the average salary of $124,398. Maine's governor is at the bottom of the scale at $70,000. California's governor earns the most, $206,500. By just about any measure, being a state governor is not a lucrative pursuit.

In fact, school district superintendents make more than most governors. State's department heads make more. Even some government workers, covered by bargaining agreements, earn more in basic salary and overtime than most governors.

But, as the Alaska compensation commission observed in its first report last year, there are different criteria for determining salaries for elected versus appointed government workers. Elected officials ask the voters for the jobs they want. Commissioners and most other government appointees are usually drawn from the private marketplace. The only hope of attracting talent lies in being at least marginally competitive.

Or, as the commission wrote in its Jan. 10, 2009 report: "... we generally expect greater sacrifices for the public service of elected statewide officials than we do of the professional people appointed to head the principal departments of government."

Fair enough. It's simply unrealistic to expect government leaders to abandon lucrative careers for government service. It's just as ludicrous to hand elected officials a king's ransom.

The fact is, the salary for the job of a state governor has no realistic comparison. After all, there are only 50 of them. And all those 50 states are different. Governorship is a more exclusive occupation than being a member of the National Football League.

Taking all that into account, what is a fair salary for Alaska's governor? Is it the current $125,000? Or should it be, as the commission is now considering, raised to $175,000?

The commission holds one more hearing Jan. 7, then issues its final proposal. Unless legislators overrule the commission, its final recommendation would take effect in 2012.

When the commission first examined this issue in 2008 it was going to recommend then-Gov. Sarah Palin get a $25,000 raise. At the time Palin said she wouldn't accept it and the commission backed away from the proposal.

Now, newly-elected Gov. Sean Parnell says he will wait until public comment is over before even weighing in on what he thinks.

We think the commission should recommend a salary increase of some amount and let the legislature gnaw on it. Let's put the final decision in the hands of the people, through their representatives, and let's decide collectively on what to pay Alaska's governor.

In short: Should Alaska's governor get a pay raise? Let's all discuss it.

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