Committee Says Executive Branch Deserves Pay Hike

Written by Bob Bernick on . Posted in Today At Utah Policy

A citizen committee charged with recommending pay raises for Utah’s five elected statewide officers – like governor and attorney general – say Herbert et al. should get increases of 36.5 percent next year.

But considering that Utah’s attorney general just had to resign in disgrace it may hardly be time to give the office a $38,000 a year raise.

 

Roger Tew, a lobbyist who is chairman of the Utah Elected Official and Judicial Compensation Commission, along with David Bird, vice chair of the commission who is also a registered lobbyist, addressed the Executive Appropriation Committee on Tuesday afternoon.

By law, the commission must every two years make a report to the EAC, which is made up of the elected leaders of the House and Senate, both parties, outlining what kind of pay raises state elected officials and judges should receive.

No raises are given without specific approval of the Legislature as a whole.

And last year lawmakers didn’t accept any of the commission’s recommendations for the elected top officials.

That came after Gov. Gary Herbert publically asked lawmakers not to give him a raise.

Since the other statewide officers’ pay is 95 percent of the governor’s, if Herbert doesn’t get a raise, neither can any of the others.

In fact, the 2014 Legislature – absent the scandal brought about by former AG John Swallow – may have looked kindly on the commission’s suggestions for next year’s general session.

That’s because the much-loved Greg Bell resigned this fall as lieutenant governor, saying while he wanted to serve he had to go into private business in order to make more than the $104,400 annual salary he was getting as Herbert’s No. 2.

(Bell took the top job in the Utah Hospital Association, salary undisclosed but likely considerably more than $104,400 a year.)

Bell, an attorney and developer, said the Great Recession greatly harmed several of his development projects; and that he had to leave in order to make more money for his upcoming retirement.

Currently, Herbert makes $109,400 a year. And the other elected officers make 95 percent of that, or $104,400.

Tew and Bird said their commission, after much study last year and revisiting the issue this year, recommends that the governor make at least as much as the “chief executive” of the other branch of full-time state employees – the chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court.

Since that justice is paid $150,000 a year, that’s what the governor should make, said Tew in speaking to the EAC.

Accordingly, the other elected officials should each make $142,500 a year. For all five, that would be a pay raise of 36.5 percent, the recommendation says.

You can read the commission’s report here.

It is not the commission’s job to consider political problems in raising the statewide elected officials’ pay, said Tew, although he certainly understands some of those concerns.

The governor’s pay has not been significantly “addressed,” said Tew, in more than a decade. And it’s time to catch up with poor, or no, annual pay adjustments.

Several years ago, the former state auditor complained that lawmakers didn’t like him, or the job he was doing.

And since legislators didn’t give him much of a pay raise when other statewide officials got some more money, legislators later decided to just tie the other officers’ pay to the governor’s.

Less politics could be played, or personalities singled out, was the argument.

But Tew and Bird said that 95 percent pay handcuff should be removed because if the governor says he shouldn’t get a pay raise, the Legislature by law can’t deny the governor a pay raise while giving raises to the other four elected officers.

Judges’ pay has, for the most part, kept up with the commission’s recommendations over the last 15 years or so. Thus, no judicial salary increases are needed at this time, said the commission.

But, noted Tew, judges’ pay scales are set in an overall judicial branch budget bill. And thusly they don’t get a lot of media scrutiny.

However, by law the statewide officers’ pay is set in a separate bill. And so the media and general detractors of the governor or AG or auditor can fight against that bill’s passage.

Ironically, several years ago lawmakers themselves got tired of never being able to raise, for political reasons, their own pay.

They took a page out of Congress’s pay-raise-play-book and passed a law saying that the separate Legislative Compensation Commission’s recommendations on lawmaker’s “part-time” pay would automatically become law every two years unless a separate bill DECLINING the pay raises was passed by lawmakers.

Those automatic pay raises don’t take effect until after a general election, so citizens can vote them out of office if they don’t like the pay raises, the argument goes.

Even with that more-politically-acceptable process, lawmakers in recent years have passed legislation turning down pay hikes.

In the 2013 Legislature – in special action outside of the even-year salary adjustment process – lawmakers changed how their pay is determined.

They did away with some unfair automatic re-imbursement provisions and reworked their daily pay levels. Overall, lawmakers ended up making a bit more money, but not much.

Accordingly, in a report presented to the EAC Tuesday, the Legislative Compensation Commission DID NOT recommend any pay hikes for lawmakers.

You can read the Legislative Compensation Commission report here.

But the new legislative report does say that elected leaders – the Senate president, House speaker, majority and minority leaders in both bodies and so on – should get pay raises because of all the extra work they do.

In the 2013 Legislature those leaders did not get a pay raise outside of all lawmakers’ $273 a day readjustment.

The president and speaker should get raises up to $5,000 a year; majority leaders to $4,000 and other leaders to $3,000 a year.

Currently, the president and speaker get $3,000 a year more for their offices; majority leaders and other elected leaders get $2,000 a year more than other lawmakers.

The president and speaker’s jobs are basically full time. President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, is a developer who has outside work, but he is often on Capitol Hill.

Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, is a homemaker who is usually in her Capitol office every workday.

Bird and Tew said they acknowledge that no one is not going to run for governor because of bad pay. There are so many perks (a free house, great power and public recognition) that almost anyone would want to be governor, even if he or she could earn much higher pay in the private sector.

But, said Bird, it is important that the Utah public know, and believe, that high state officials are not doing any outside work to earn more money for their families.

“The citizens need to understand that these politicians are living on their (state) salaries; and that it is not augmented by any other source of income. They are not on any boards or professional organizations,” said Bird.

While it was not mentioned in the committee hearing Tuesday, part of Swallow’s legal and ethical problems was that he was allowed – under then-current AG-office rules – to collect a salary and/or “consulting fees” for work he did outside of the AG’s office when he was deputy chief to former AG Mark Shurtleff.

“It is a bulwark faith that our elected officials are serving just us and not anyone else,” said Bird.

And a good pay scale will, in part, help that ideal, said Tew and Bird.

The pair said the commission is not opposed to the 2014 Legislature adopted the suggested pay raises, but not actually giving them until after the 2016 elections – when the current incumbents’ terms end – or with phasing in the 36.5 percent pay hikes over a number of years.

All that may be more politically acceptable.

Or not, considering the low opinion many Utahns had of Swallow and how the AG’s office was run over the last decade.

In any case, under current law legislative leaders’ pay raises of several thousand dollars a year will happen automatically unless a bill is passed denying them; while raises for Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox; Attorney General (yet unnamed); Auditor John Dougall and Treasurer Richard Ellis won’t happen unless a bill is specifically passed in the 2014 Legislature awarding such pay hikes.