Panel recommends Alaska officials get pay raises

Kyle Hopkins

A new state commission says the Alaska governor ought to get a $25,000 a year raise.

Asked to figure out how much Alaska should pay its top officials, the group recommends pay hikes for the lieutenant governor, department heads and legislators too.

"We need the best people we can get to do some pretty tough jobs against some often incredibility well-financed, single-minded corporate and individual interests," said Rick Halford, a former legislator and chairman of the new State Officers Compensation Commission.

Deciding how much to pay themselves is always a thorny proposition for politicians who answer to an ever-skeptical public. Today's national recession and relatively low oil prices wouldn't make it any easier.

Enter the new five-member commission, created by the Legislature earlier this year to take the decision out of lawmakers' hands. The members are appointed by the governor -- with two selected from lists recommended by legislative leaders.

The panel came up with a list of recommendations over the weekend and is looking for the public to weigh in at a meeting Thursday at 9 a.m. at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office.

Among the commission's suggestions:

• Raise the governor's salary 20 percent, from $125,000 to $150,000.

• Raise the salary of the lieutenant governor and state commissioners to $135,000 a year. Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell currently makes $100,00 a year, while commissioners are paid between $122,640 to $127,240 a year, according to the commission's numbers.

• Give all state legislators a flat annual salary of $50,400 while doing away with a per-diem lawmakers get for working on state business when the Legislature isn't in session. That would amount to an overall pay hike as well, based on lawmakers' pay in 2007.

2006 pay raise

"I thought we just gave a raise to the governor and the commissioners," Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, said Monday in reaction to the recommendations.

That raise was in 2006, when the Legislature increased the governor's pay by 46 percent. Gov. Sarah Palin was the first to get the new pay rate. Her predecessor, Frank Murkowski, made about $86,000 a year.

In 2006 the lieutenant governor got a pay hike too: 25 percent.

Currently, Palin ranks near the middle of the pack nationally when it comes to gubernatorial salaries as the 24th-lowest paid governor, according to the commission's numbers.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger makes the most, at more than $212,000 a year, but the former movie star doesn't take the money.

Palin is also making less than three of her department heads, according to the commission.

"We felt that the governor should be paid more than the commissioners," said Halford, a former Senate President who retired from the Legislature in 2002.

As for the extra $25,000 she would make?

"I would expect this governor to probably donate that to her favorite charity. Because I believe that she very much serves for the service, not the pay," said Halford, who supported Palin during her campaign for governor in 2006.

Asked if anyone told him Palin would actually do that, he said no.

Palin spokesman Bill McAllister said he didn't know what the governor would do if she got the raise, and that Palin didn't want to comment on the group's recommendations.

"She wouldn't want to be seen as influencing or attempting to influence the commission's work right out of the chute," he said.

The governor appointed Halford, former Senate President Mike Miller, Gordon Harrison of Juneau, Rick Koch of Kenai and Thomas McGrath of Anchorage to the panel in mid-November.

Halford registered as a lobbyist with the state in 2005, working for the Alaska Gasline Port Authority. He said Monday he has no plans to return to lobbying work in the future.

Miller is a former Senate president too, and former commissioner of Administration.

Miller told other members of the salary commission that current Administration Commissioner Annette Kreitzer had called him to say the Palin administration preferred the old system of variable pay for commissioners, according to meeting minutes.

That conversation came before the commission's first meeting, Miller said Monday. Kreitzer said the variable pay gives the governor more flexibility when it comes to hiring people with different experience levels, but that she's no longer weighing in on the process.

"We are stepping back at this point and not providing any more comment," she said.

The commission members didn't take Kreitzer's suggestion anyway. They recommend all the commissioners get paid the same amount.

legislature's per diem

Legislators have had the same basic pay -- $24,000-- since the early 1990s, according to the Legislative Affairs Agency.

The commission suggests doubling that number, while getting rid of a $150-a-day per diem lawmakers earn for working on state business when the Legislature's not in session. Some lawmakers claim more of the offseason per diem pay than others.

Lawmakers would also still receive a daily per diem they collect while the Legislature is in session in Juneau, as well as money for office expenses and reimbursement for travel and moving costs.

Ramras, a restaurant and hotel owner, doesn't support increasing the base pay.

"People run for elected office because they have big egos and because they think they can help people. They don't run for the pay raise."

While the Legislature isn't very good at deciding it's own salary, changes are necessary, said Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, who proposed creating the independent commission last year.

The people who run for office are often retirees who can afford it. The way to get a younger, more diverse group of lawmakers is to pay people enough to focus on the job, he said.

"The question isn't whether or not people's pay goes up, the question is -- are you paying them enough to have a reasonable expectation that they're going to do a decent job for you?"

People who can't get to Anchorage can take part in Thursday's public meeting through their local Legislative Information Office. Another meeting is planned for Jan. 10.

Whatever new pay scale the commission eventually settles on after hearing from the public takes root unless the Legislature acts to reject it.

Find Kyle Hopkins online at or call him at 257-4334.

Contact Kyle Hopkins at or on