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Salary bill moves out of Senate Finance Committee

By Rhonda McBride 10:02 PM January 31, 2014

If a measure to block pay increases doesn't pass, raises for the governor and his top staffers will automatically take effect

JUNEAU – Although an independent salary review board has recommended raises for the governor and his top staffers, there’s a bill moving through the legislature to block those pay raises.

If the measure doesn’t pass, the raises will automatically take effect.

Gov. Sean Parnell already said he doesn’t want a pay raise and asked lawmakers to intervene.

With looming budget cuts, he said, getting a pay raise would send the wrong message.

The Senate Finance Committee took up the bill Friday morning and debated the recommendations made by the State Officers Compensation Commission.

Although Parnell has declined a salary increase, he does want his department heads to get a pay raise — to prevent private industry from luring them away, he said.

Commissioners currently earn about $145,000 a year. If the increases take effect, that number will go up to about $150,000 at the end of two years.

Sen. Pete Kelly, (R) Fairbanks, is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. He objects to the salary increases, except in certain cases. He believes the attorney general and the Department of Natural Resources commissioner are two positions that should pay more.

“We can’t lose those people because of salary, and I know we have in the past,” Kelly said. “When they’re negotiating huge deals for us, we’ve got to have the A team here.”

Sen. Anna Fairclough, (R) Eagle River, said she doesn’t support the pay increases either, but said the pay scale for the state’s top positions don’t always make sense.

“I do think it’s inherently wrong when a deputy commissioner is making more than a commissioner,” Fairclough said.

The salary commission’s report said 13 of 23 deputy commissioners earn more than their bosses.

The governor currently makes about $145,000, which is much lower than some of the state’s most highly paid positions.

State psychiatrists and other medical professionals, as well as investment officers are paid more than $200,000, while some attorneys earn about $155,000.

Consider the case of former Revenue Commissioner Bryan Butcher, whose salary jumped from $136,000 to $250,000, after he left his job as commissioner to become director of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.

Democrats were the first to attempt to block the pay increases after the news the state now faces a $2 billion budget deficit.

“If the governor says we have no money for kids, no money for teachers, and he’s going to lay upwards of now a 1,000 teachers in the last four years, I guess we don’t have money for his commissioners,” said Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat and member of the House Finance Committee.

Senate Finance Committee members voted unanimously to do away with the pay raises. They moved Senate Bill 125 out of committee, where it now goes to the Senate floor for a full debate.

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