Gov. Sean Parnell said Saturday he'll turn down a raise of nearly $6,000, citing the state's budget woes and the elimination of 150 vacant positions in state government.
"In light of budget constraints and upon further reflection, the governor determined his salary should remain the same as it has been for several years," his office said in a prepared statement emailed to reporters Saturday afternoon.
But Parnell said he still wanted his administration's commissioners to get the raises suggested by the Alaska State Officers Compensation Commission, a board created to set the pay for Alaska's top officials.
In his announcement, Parnell did not refer to the proposal announced Friday by two House Democrats to introduce legislation to eliminate the raises for Parnell and his commissioners. One of those representatives, Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks, said he wasn't surprised.
"I didn't expect him to credit us with anything, ever," Kawasaki said in an email Saturday. "I'm happy that our bill made him "further reflect" upon the budget.
Added Les Gara of Anchorage: "I don't care why he did it. What matters is we've got a massive deficit and we've got to prioritize spending."
That priority should include more money for education, Gara added in a phone interview.
"I think he recognized the public was angry at the idea someone would think a pay raise was reasonable when schools were being flat-funded."
Parnell's spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said in an email Saturday, "The governor reached his decision on his own and looks forward to working with legislators to reduce state spending."
In his statement, Parnell said the commissioners were hardworking and deserved the raises recommended by the commission, increasing their annual salaries from $136,350 to $146,143.
"The commissioners' jobs are extremely demanding, and retention is becoming an issue," Parnell said in the statement. "I believe a salary increase for agency heads is warranted at this time."
The compensation commission would raise Parnell's salary from $145,000 to $150,873 and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell's from $115,000 to $119,658. Treadwell, running in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, didn't comment directly on the proposed raise but said in an earlier statement reported by the Associated Press that his old pay was adequate and that he was not looking to get rich as a public official.
The commission's recommendations become final if the Legislature doesn't reject them. Gara and Kawasaki's proposed bill would do that just that, and Gara said he'd hold firm on the commissioners too, except for one or two who he said deserve a merit raise.
Parnell announced a budget proposal last week that would draw on $3 billion in savings to avoid deficits for the current year and next year, a sharp turnabout from recent surpluses over that pumped billions into the savings accounts.
Gara and Kawasaki acknowledged the raises were tiny compared to the deficits, but said the suffering should be shared.
"I would still suggest that the pain of a multi-billion deficit should be felt by the leadership, including his executive staff," Kawasaki said. "Unfortunately, families, children, students and communities are going to bear the brunt of the Governor's multi-billion dollar giveaway," he said, referring to oil-tax cuts passed by the Legislature last session.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.