Weekly Wrap: Officials Hope to Dodge Pay Backlash
By Daniel C. Vock, Staff Writer
It's no surprise that salaries for top state officials and lawmakers would land in the spotlight at a time when Americans are losing their jobs or are coming home with smaller paychecks. In some states, top officials are trying to show they, too, are making do with less.Bob McDonnell, Virginia's soon-to-be Republican governor, took on the touchy political subject this week by announcing he would cut his own salary.McDonnell said he would reduce his pay and that of his top advisers by 5 percent when he assumes the executive office on Jan. 16, The Roanoke Times reports . McDonnell said his pick for commerce secretary, wealthy businessman Robert Sledd, will work for free.The paper noted that McDonnell pledged to reduce the governor's salary, which had been $175,000, during his campaign to succeed Democrat Tim Kaine. Kaine had already reduced his paycheck by 5 percent.Vermont legislators are also moving ahead with a 5 percent cut. Legislative leaders announced the move Wednesday, but, as the Burlington Free Press notes, the cuts will amount to only $544 per lawmaker over the 17-week session.Meanwhile, Maryland legislators want nothing to do with a pay hike recommended for them by an independent board, according to The Baltimore Sun . The leaders of the House and Senate issued a joint statement saying the recommended $2,000 pay hike would be "inappropriate."Just how sensitive is the issue of public sector pay raises? It looks like Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) will soon find out, after the Missoulian disclosed that 14 employees in Schweitzer's budget office received salary bumps despite a two-year pay freeze.Only four members of the budget office, including its director, did not receive a pay hike. The hikes ranged from 2 percent to 19 percent. Budget Director David Ewer told the Missoulian promotions caused the bigger paychecks. He also noted that, overall, his office's payroll spending decreased because of unfilled positions.
It looks as if state revenue collections haven't hit bottom yet. A new report ( 6-page PDF ) by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government shows that, during the third quarter of 2009, state tax collections fell for the fourth consecutive quarter. The decline of 10.7 percent came across the board, in all major tax categories and in all 44 states for which year-to-year data were available. North Dakota, the only state to consistently take in more money during the recession, posted a loss during the third quarter, although that's because of tax cuts.The bad news on the revenue side of the ledger isn't fazing Republican legislators in Arizona, where House Speaker Kirk Adams is pushing a package of tax cuts meant to spur job creation."Arizona is not as competitive as it needs to be with job retention and job growth," Adams told the Arizona Republic .The Grand Canyon State is still grappling with a $1.4 billion projected shortfall in its current budget and faces an even bigger $3 billion hole for the year starting in July. But Adams said his tax cuts would be phased in to avoid worsening the current deficits.Iowa legislators, though, are trying to figure out what tax breaks for businesses are worth keeping. Outrage over the state's film tax incentives last fall prompted the review.The film incentives were among the most generous in the country, reimbursing movie makers up to 50 percent of their expenses at a cost of up to $300 million to the state. The filmmakers used credits to help buy luxury cars, an iPod and a feather bed.Now legislators are expected to review all of the state's business incentives, the Quad City Times reports."What I'm telling people is if you care about a tax credit, then you need to be ready to justify it and explain why it's in the best interests of Iowans, and why we need to continue it," House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen, a Republican, told the paper.
The Oklahoma state capitol famously sits atop an oil field and is even surrounded by working oil derricks. But maybe it's a sign of the times that this week, two wind turbines will appear among the towering energy producers on the grounds of the capitol complex.The 12-story fixtures will be located at the governor's mansion and at a human services building, the Tulsa World reports.
An ethics law in Illinois, passed in the wake of the arrest and impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), was supposed to clean up state government. But part of the law backfired and now leaves the Land of Lincoln without any way to track state lobbyists.The Illinois secretary of state's office shut down the lobbyist tracking system in response to a court ruling that held that new, higher fees for lobbyist registration were excessive, Illinois Issues notes. The fees were tripled in an effort to pay for other reforms.