• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 38s

Pay raises debated as Parnell proposes budget cuts

By Rhonda McBride 10:37 AM December 17, 2013

“The bottom line is if everybody else has to cut back, then why shouldn’t they?”

ANCHORAGE - To raise or not to raise — that is the debate over State of Alaska department head salaries.

It began last Thursday, when Republican Gov. Sean Parnell announced a $1.3 billion budget cut and at the same time said he would accept the recommendation of a state salary commission to increase pay for the heads of state agencies.

Under the recommendations, commissioner salaries would increase by roughly seven percent, from $136,350 to $146,142.

Democrats immediately vowed to fight the raise.

“I don’t think we have enough money for all 14 commissioners to get a pay raise,” said Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat.

Gara believes the governor is sending the wrong message, offering his top executives a substantial raise while schools and children will suffer under his flat education budget.

The pay increases set by the salary commission go into effect automatically unless the Legislature rejects them. The commission recommended a raise of almost $6,000 for the governor, from $145,000 a year to $150,872, set to take effect on July 1 next year.  The governor has said he does not want this increase but believes the raises for his cabinet members are necessary because retention is becoming a problem.

Roger Wolfinbarger, a retired veteran who was shopping at Northway Mall on Monday, believes it sets a bad example to increase commissioner pay.

“The bottom line is if everybody else has to cut back, then why shouldn’t they?” Wolfinbarger said.

Kathy Mills, another shopper, said she’s not sure what is the right thing to do.

“Are the commissioners doing the job they should be doing?  Should they be doing more?  I don’t know,” Mills said.

One longtime Anchorage executive recruiter said pay for the state’s top job is much more complicated than many realize.

“You’re really going after top notch people out of the private sector and asking them to come in and make this a better state,” said Anne Bulmer, a recruiter and manager at Alaska Executive Search, Inc. “But you’re paying them like you’re paying junior executives.”

Bulmer, based on her knowledge of the jobs market, believes members of the governor’s cabinet could earn at least $40,000 more in jobs outside state government.

“And that’s conservative,” she said. “Most of them would be earning well over $200,000.”

Bulmer speaks somewhat from experience. Her husband, Bob, went to work for Gov. Wally Hickel as his chief of operations during his second term, but left after eight months.

“My husband was happy to work with the governor and make this contribution,” she said, “But quite honestly, it was a negative cash flow for the Bulmers.”

It’s hard for the public to understand the 24/7 nature of a cabinet member’s job, as well as the constant travel, Bulmer said.

“It truly is a public service,” said Bulmer, adding it’s something most people don’t appreciate.

Commissioners are paid well below some of the state’s top wage earners. Psychiatrists and other medical professionals, as well as investment officers, are paid more than $200,000, while some attorneys are paid around $155,000.

A look at state salary records shows many inconsistencies.

For example, the newly appointed Commissioner of Natural Resources, Joe Balash, had to take a slight pay cut when he was promoted from deputy commissioner to commissioner.

Conversely, there’s also the case of former Revenue Commissioner Bryan Butcher, whose salary jumped from $136,000 to $250,000 when he stepped down to become director of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.

Or consider the fortunes of Craig Campbell, who took a sizeable pay cut when he was tapped for the post of Lt. Governor from his role as the head of the Department of Veterans and Military Affairs after former Gov. Sarah Palin resigned in 2009.

According to the Governor’s Office, Campbell went from earning $135,000 to $100,000.  Today, he is head of the Alaska Aerospace Corporation, a state agency: The job earns him $250,000 a year.

To many – and even those who work in state government — these wide variations in state salaries do not seem to have rhyme or reason. Some say that’s the nature of the beast called government.

And some longtime government observers said people shouldn’t feel too sorry for the governor’s commissioners. They said like an investment, time in government service can be parlayed into a private sector job that pays tens of thousands of dollars more.

Latest Stories

  • News

    Alaska Gov.-elect Bill Walker appoints law partner as attorney general

    by Rhonda McBride on Nov 27, 1:57

    On Monday, Dec. 1, Bill Walker will leave his private law practice behind to become governor of Alaska. But he won’t be leaving behind his longtime partner, Craig Richards, who will now serve as attorney general. Richards says he took the job because he believes the governor needs a good lawyer. “I was being a […]

  • News

    Thanksgiving travel tales from the Anchorage airport

    by Kate McPherson on Nov 26, 23:27

    Spending Thanksgiving with loved ones isn’t possible for everyone. But for others, taking a flight or two is all it takes to get the family together. At the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Wednesday night, 2-year-old Rachael waited patiently for her dad to come home from the North Slope. Her mom, Melissa Chapman, is happy that […]

  • News

    After power outage, Tuluksak families get turkey donation

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Nov 26, 22:50

    Families that lost tons of meat after a power outage in Tuluksak will now have a turkey on the table for Thanksgiving. The community of nearly 400 went without electricity for an extended period of time following a power plant failure. Because of the warm temperatures, many people weren’t able to keep their subsistence meat frozen. […]

  • News

    ‘Tis the season: 800 Christmas lights on Government Hill

    by Heather Hintze on Nov 26, 22:11

    Residents riding around Anchorage may notice a familiar sight in Government Hill. The lights have been turned on at the Christmas Tree on the neighborhood’s cell tower — a day students at Government Hill Elementary School have been waiting for all year long. The students waited anxiously on the eve of Thanksgiving for the school’s […]

  • Weather

    Evening News weather, Nov. 26

    by KTVA Weather on Nov 26, 19:36

    Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound Skies will be partly sunny for Thanksgiving, but expect to wake up to early morning fog. Southeast Expect clouds to move out as clearing happens from the north to the south. Interior and North Slope In the Interior, skies will be mostly clear with temperatures dramatically cooling off. North […]

  • News

    Farmer’s market in Anchorage offers Thanksgiving alternatives to turkey

    by Lauren Maxwell on Nov 26, 19:29

    Alaskans who want to eat local this holiday season will find plenty to fill their holiday tables. That’s especially true if they are open to some alternatives for the main course. At the Center Market, a year-round farmer’s market inside the Sears Mall, shoppers could be found on the day before Thanksgiving picking up produce […]

  • News

    Anchorage students learn about the godmother of Thanksgiving

    by Alexis Fernandez on Nov 26, 19:23

    Food and family are two of the symbols most associated with Thanksgiving. On the eve of the national holiday, one group of local sixth-graders decided to dig a little deeper. Word-by-word, sixth-grade students at College Gate Elementary School relived history and learned about the past. They put together a presentation about well-known author Sarah Hale, known as […]

  • News

    Injured musher, dogs recovering after being struck by car in Willow

    by Shannon Ballard on Nov 26, 19:14

    Willow, Alaska is musher country, a place where residents joke that there are more dogs than people. Dog sled trails weave through the trees right up against the Parks Highway. Six-time Iditarod finisher Karin Hendrickson is familiar with the curve near mile marker 91. It’s where she and her sled dog team were stuck by […]