Compass: Fiscal restraint should start in the governor's office

By ANDREE McLEODApril 8, 2013 

We keep hearing reports about the need for fiscal restraint and reining in the cost of government. Legislative finance leaders recently sent Gov. Sean Parnell a letter about the likelihood of deficit spending and the $11 billion unfunded pension liability. It was sent after Parnell administration official Curtis Thayer testified that the state can't afford to give large cost-of-living increases to its workers, among other things.

During a hearing, Thayer answered questions about benefits received by Parnell's executive team, "...what we negotiate for the unions, we would apply to ourselves. We intend to implement for the executives ...the same COLA. That's the intention and that's traditionally the way the executive branch follows when we negotiate contracts."

Meanwhile, Parnell blocked the expansion of Medicaid even though federal dollars would have funded much-needed health insurance to thousands of uninsured Alaskans and improved their quality of life, created thousands of jobs, pumped more than a billion dollars into our economy over ten years, and potentially lowered health care premiums for everyone because more people would have been able to pay their share of health care costs.

He told a reporter, "My concern is that we would accept expanded costs and a larger program at a time when the federal government doesn't even know whether it can meet the existing obligations it has. That's something that is in the forefront of my mind, as the oil production continues to decline, as our state revenues decline with that declining production and declining price."

But Parnell forgets about those declines as he hands out salary increases to his high-ranking employees.

In 2009, Parnell's deputy chief of staff's annual salary was around $112,000. In his budget proposal to legislators, the governor is now asking for around $137,000.

He also promoted his assistant to Anchorage Office Director with a salary of around $103,000, then again promoted her to a new Deputy Chief of Staff position. He now wants around $140,000.

With benefits, that's a total cost of over $400,000 for just these two Deputy Chiefs of Staff.

After Palin quit, Parnell kept her chief of staff, Mike Nizich, who annually pocketed $75,000 of his state retirement at the same time he worked in the Office of the Governor since 2003. In 2009, his annual salary was $147,000.

Subsequently, legislation that barred rehired state employees from collecting their state retirement while working for the state went into effect.

So after a nine-year gig as a temporary employee, Parnell switched Nizich to more permanent status with a salary of about $170,000.

Six months later, Parnell gave him another raise to around $178,000, and a couple of weeks later, legislation raised that salary to $181,644.

Parnell now seeks approximately $188,000 for Nizich, which could factor into another, much larger, retirement account.

Add the $165,000 salary cost for his administration director and the total cost, with benefits, for these two positions alone is over $500,000.

That's almost $1 million for just four positions in the Office of the Governor.

Repeated requests for documents that list duties and responsibilities of these positions were unsuccessful because those documents do not exist.

This is the same governor who demands accountability from others outside state government.

While Alaskans struggle to make ends meet, stay healthy and keep warm, Parnell unbelievably doled out pay raises even though he acknowledged to having declining revenues in the forefront of his mind as "...the oil production that continues to decline, as our state revenues decline with that declining production and declining price."

Parnell refused to inject a needed boost to the health and well-being of our economy, but gave substantial raises to his chosen few.

Good public stewardship means that the public's business is done above-board with performance measures in place. Good public stewards protect the public's welfare.

That's not happening in the Parnell administration, where standard office procedures are ignored, nests are feathered, and a federally-funded program like Medicaid is blocked.

True leaders lead by example. The rhetoric coming from the Parnell administration and legislators about accountability, reining in government spending and fiscal restraint rings very hollow.

Andrée McLeod has lived in Alaska since 1978. She is a former state employee and open-government activist.

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