Many Utahns would be glad to get a 2 percent or 5 percent raise. (Maybe happy having a job at all.)
How about a raise of 36.5 percent – from $109,000 a year to $150,000 a year?
That’s what a bipartisan, independent commission recommends for a pay hike in 2013 for Gov. Gary Herbert.
Lt. Gov. Greg Bell; State Treasurer Richard Ellis; and newly-elected Attorney General John Swallow and State Auditor John Dougall would all get similar pay raises of 36.5 percent.
Their salaries of $104,400 a year are, by law, 95 percent of the governor’s salary – and would go to $142,500 under the commission’s recommendation.
The 2013 Legislature will decide if those five statewide elected offices see any pay increases next year – and it’s likely if the “fab five” get any pay raises at all, it won’t be 36.5 percent.
Tuesday afternoon the six-member Elected Official and Judicial Compensation Commission made its every-two-years report to the Legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee.
Lawmakers have given modest pay raises to the top executives in recent years, no pay raises during the hard times of 2008-2010 when state workers rank-and-file weren’t given any pay hikes.
(A side note here: Legislators can accept a separate citizen commission’s pay raise suggestions for themselves following an election year, but are not part of the EOJCC recommendations.)
The EOJCC doesn’t recommend any increase in pay for the state’s district court judges and appellate court justices.
Currently, the Utah Supreme Court justices get $146,800 a year, the Court of Appeals justices get $140,120 a year, and district court and juvenile court judges get $133,450 a year.
Judges’ pay has been increased in recent years and the EOJCC says if rank-and-file state workers get a cost-of-living wage hike in 2013, judges should get the same pay increase.
EOJCC chairman Roger Tew and vice chair David Bird, both registered lobbyists, told legislative leaders that it’s been too long since the five statewide elected officials got a significant pay increase.
While the EOJCC looked at the pay of governors and elected officials in other states, ultimately commission members decided to base the governor’s salary in accordance to what members of the Utah Supreme Court get.
The high court officially oversees the judicial branch of government, just as the governor oversees the executive branch, said Tew.
A top concern, said Bird, is that state top officials be paid a salary commensurate with their great responsibilities.
It’s true, said Tew, that many people may well run for governor and the other top jobs and care little about the pay.
There are, of course, a lot of other issues, like public service and prestige of office, that are compensation for being the governor.
But it should never be the case that only wealthy people who can afford to serve should consider a run for those high offices.
There are many other local government executives who make more money than the governor, said Tew.
The Salt Lake County mayor, for example, makes $131,000 a year, he said.
And all the members of Herbert’s cabinet make more than the governor does – some considerably more.
Said Bird: “This is the time to make the change” because Utah state government has recently come out of tough economic times of the Great Recession.
Herbert was recently elected to his own four-year term. Swallow and Dougall are taking office for the first time.
Thus, the bipartisan commission members felt that legislators wouldn’t be looking so much at the folks in office for some time in making these decisions.
In fact, there has been a history of personal politics in setting the pay for previous governors, AGs, treasurers and auditors.
Outgoing Auditor Auston Johnson complained that some lawmakers didn’t want to give him a pay raise one year because they disagreed with some of the audits he performed.
While GOP legislators denied it, back in the day when there were two Democratic attorneys general in office their salaries were not increased as much as EOJCC commissions recommended.
So, in 2006, lawmakers decided to tie the Lt. Gov., AG, treasurer and auditor salaries to 95 percent of the governor’s. A good move, said Tew, even though that could mean a governor may ask lawmakers not to give him a recommended pay hike and, thus, the other four elected officials would have to be denied the recommended hike as well.
In any case, Bird said it is a “pernicious perception” that a Utah governor should have to count on outside income to be able to afford to serve.
Of course, the governor gets a nice house free to live in and various accounts to help keep that house up. He gets free vehicle transportation, most of his out-of-state trips are paid for, as well.
And he gets to keep his honorific title of governor even after he leaves office.
“We urge (the Legislature) to actively give our recommendation consideration,” said Bird.
But in a year when Utah may be strapped to fully fund the growth in public school children, even though the raises proposed by the EOJCC are small in comparison to the $11 billion state budget, 36.5 percent par raises for the top elected state officials may be seen as a bit much by legislators.
You can read the EOJCC report here.