Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Alaska Commission Recommends Another Windfall $25,000 Pay Raise For Governor Sarah Palin A Mere Two Years After She Got A 46 Percent Pay Raise

Update January 11th, 2009: The Compensation Commission abandoned their proposal to give Governor Palin a pay raise and now propose raises only for commissioners and legislators. See updated post HERE.

While hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their jobs due to the economic meltdown and interior Alaska villages are scrambling to figure out how to heat their homes through the rest of this winter, the pigs are scrambling to feed even more vigorously at the public trough. A new state commission says that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin ought to get a $25,000 a year raise, a mere two years after she got a 46 percent bump to her current $125,000 per year. Media stories from the Anchorage Daily News, two separate stories from the Juneau Empire, HERE and HERE, and two separate stories from KTUU Channel 2, HERE and HERE.

The Anchorage Daily News now editorially supports the proposal.

This is part of a proposal put forth by the Alaska State Officers Compensation Commission, in which they also recommend pay hikes for the lieutenant governor, department heads and legislators as well. Their excuse: "We need the best people we can get to do some pretty tough jobs against some often incredibility well-financed, single-minded corporate and individual interests," said Rick Halford, a former legislator and chairman of the new five-member commission, which also includes former State Senate President Mike Miller, Gordon Harrison of Juneau, Rick Koch of Kenai and Thomas McGrath of Anchorage.

Additional justification offered by the commission:

- Palin ranks near the middle of the pack nationally when it comes to gubernatorial salaries as the 24th-lowest paid governor.

- Palin is also making less than three of her department heads. The commission feels the governor should make more than her commissioners.

The panel came up with a list of recommendations over the weekend and is looking for the public to weigh in at a meeting scheduled for Thursday December 17th at 9 A.M. at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office.

Among the commission's suggestions (including the first one):

• Raise the governor's salary 20 percent, from $125,000 to $150,000.

• Raise the salary of the lieutenant governor and state commissioners to $135,000 a year. Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell currently makes $100,000 a year, while commissioners are paid between $122,640 to $127,240 a year, according to the commission's numbers.

• Give all state legislators a flat annual salary of $50,400 while doing away with a per-diem lawmakers get for working on state business when the Legislature isn't in session. That would amount to an overall pay hike as well, based on lawmakers' pay in 2007.

Early reaction is mixed. District 10 Representative Jay Ramras (R-Fairbanks), whose common sense is beginning to favorably impress me, takes exception to the timing, implying that another raise is way too soon.

As for Palin? Her spokesman Bill McAllister originally said he didn't know what the governor would do if she got the raise, and that Palin didn't want to comment on the group's recommendations. "She wouldn't want to be seen as influencing or attempting to influence the commission's work right out of the chute," he said. But since this story broke, the ADN's Alaska Politics blog now reports that Governor Palin, who was just selected runner-up to Time Magazine's Person of the Year, will not accept any pay raise during the remainder of her term, which expires in 2010.

Justification for a legislative pay raise is somewhat stronger, however. Legislators have had the same basic pay -- $24,000-- since the early 1990s, according to the Legislative Affairs Agency. The commission suggests doubling that number, while getting rid of a $150-a-day per diem lawmakers earn for working on state business when the Legislature's not in session. Some lawmakers claim more of the offseason per diem pay than others. Lawmakers would also still receive a daily per diem they collect while the Legislature is in session in Juneau, as well as money for office expenses and reimbursement for travel and moving costs.

But Jay Ramras, who is also a restaurant and hotel owner, doesn't support this idea, either. "People run for elected office because they have big egos and because they think they can help people. They don't run for the pay raise". And the 2007 compensation chart for lawmakers published by the Juneau Empire shows that, once you factor in all the per diem, they're making good money.

Former Anchorage Daily News columnist Mike Doogan, who is the Democratic representative for House District 25, believes the legislative pay raise is necessary. He opines that too many people who run for office are often retirees who can afford it. He believes we need a younger, more diverse group of lawmakers, and increasing pay is necessary to broaden the demographic. "The question isn't whether or not people's pay goes up, the question is -- are you paying them enough to have a reasonable expectation that they're going to do a decent job for you?", asked Doogan.

House Speaker John Harris (R-Valdez) and House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula (D-Juneau were also supportive. "That's fine with me. Sometimes it's difficult to get people to run for public office because of the reduction in pay they get from the private sector," Harris said.

Kerttula said the commission's proposal "made sense." The current system of paying variable amounts for work outside the session is often far less than the amount of work that's actually done, she said. "It makes sense to have everyone at the same rate," Kerttula said.

People who can't get to Anchorage can take part in Thursday's public meeting through their local Legislative Information Office; presumably, teleconferencing will be available. Another meeting is planned for January 10th. Whatever new pay scale the commission eventually settles on after hearing from the public takes root unless the Legislature acts to reject it.

Analysis: This is lunacy. Doesn't this commission have any idea how demoralizing, discouraging, and outrageous it is to the public to be suggesting windfall pay raises for public officials when there are massive layoffs and villages are uncertain about how to pay to heat their homes? People are already outraged over the fact that the Anchorage Assembly rubber-stamped a sweetheart deal for the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association (APDEA) on Tuesday December 16th.

As a matter of fact, some could make the case that Governor Palin might deserve a pay cut for the way she mishandled Troopergate and for the AGIA scam. In any event, the governor, lieutenant governor, and the commissioners deserve no pay raise.

As for the legislature, since it's been a long time since they've had a pay raise, they deserve some consideration, although the commission's proposal is too excessive. The legislature should only be raised to $40,000 at the most. And in exchange, they should be required to relocate to South Central Alaska, preferably Anchorage, within five years. Relocation to Anchorage would reduce the per diem for over half the state's lawmakers to ancecdotal levels only, and reduce airfare for lawmakers in most other parts of the state.

And as for Mike Doogan's crack about the age of lawmakers, what's wrong with having older, wiser heads with decades of life experience representing us and making our laws? I sure as hell don't want a bunch of 25-year-old hotheaded jihadis representing us. Remember how Alex Crawford ended up? Do you want a legislature full of Alex Crawfords?

Besides, Mike Doogan is no spring chicken himself.

1 comment:

  1. Why doesn't your headline reflect that Sarah Palin is NOT going to accept any pay raise?