Responsibilities Of State Leaders Outpace Salaries

By: - November 5, 1999 12:00 am

As chief executive of the world’s seventh largest economy, California Gov. Gray Davis will earn a salary of $141,936 this year for leading a state with an $81 billion budget and a $1 billion surplus.

That is small change compared to what Davis would have earned in a similar job in the private sector. The head of the Fortune 500’s seventh largest corporation, Citigroup CEO Sanford Weill, will reportedly make $1.1 billion in salary and stock options this year for running a company with $76 billion in revenue and $5.8 billion in profits.

To be sure, comparing salaries of public officials to those of corporate executives is a bit invidious. And to imagine a public servant getting paid more than a professional athlete in this age is ludicrous.

But with the nation’s governors widely viewed as responsible for their state’s share of the national economic boom, they can make a strong case that they deserve to be compensated better.

And it appears that governors are getting pay raises at a fairly decent clip.

According to a survey done this fall by CommonWealth magazine of Massachusetts, 22 of the nation’s 50 governors have received a legislated pay raise since January 1998. That was the date of the last national survey of governors’ salaries, compiled by the Council of State Governments. New York’s George Pataki remains the highest paid governor, with a salary of $179,000. According to the CSG, he earned $130,000 in 1998. Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns remains the lowest paid at $65,000, unchanged from the last accounting.

The only other governor who approached Pataki’s $49,000 raise was New Jersey’s Christine Todd Whitman, whose salary jumped from $85,000 in 1998 to $130,000 in 1999.

Next in line for a raise could be Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci. Under a plan expected to move easily through the state legislature this month, his salary would jump from $90,000 to $145,000. That 60 percent pay raise would make him the second highest paid governor in the nation, passing California’s Davis. The plan was submitted 10 months after the normal filing period, but with no objections in either chamber, the measure immediately moved forward to public hearings. The bill also gives pay increases to the attorney general, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer and auditor.

“The governor took a position in favor of some sort of a pay increase. He’s in favor of some upward adjustment, but I don’t know if he’s specifically adopted or embraced a number,” Cellucci spokesman John Birtwell told the Boston Globe.

The last time Massachusetts’ top public officials got a raise was 6 years ago.

But salary isn’t the only form of compensation received by the nation’s governors. All but four states (Arizona, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont) provide a rent-free executive residence for the governor. And 42 of the 50 governors are provided a state airplane or helicopter.

The governors of Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, California, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, and Vermont have to make do with state-chauffeured automobiles.

All governors except for Indiana’s Frank O’Bannon are compensated for their travel expenses. But Indiana’s future governors might not mind, though, as a coalition of legislators is pushing for legislative and executive branch pay raises.

Under a proposal that passed a legislative study committee in October, the governor’s salary would skyrocket from $77,200 to $140,000 in the Year 2001. That would be the governor’s first raise since 1989. Beyond 2001, an appointed commissioner would decide all pay raises for the legislature and governor.

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