Democrats say they’re surprised that Gov. Bill Haslam would opt to pay his top agency bosses 11 percent more than his predecessor did.
“I think at a time of high unemployment, this really sends the wrong signal to increase the pay of the state’s top administrators and these commissioners,” said state Sen. Lowe Finney, a high ranking Democrat from Jackson.
According to a report by The Associated Press, Haslam’s state commissioners’ minimum salary is $15,000 higher than that those from Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration.
Haslam raised the minimum salary to $150,000 from $135,000 for agency heads, according to The AP. The maximum is now $200,000, up from a previous $180,000 high.
Republican leaders across the board say they support Haslam’s decision to pay high-level commissioners more money if it means better returns in the long run.
“We’re honored and pleased to have these commissioners and they need to be paid accordingly,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell who said the high quality leaders will ultimately find ways to make government more efficient. She added that there’s “no good time” to give a raise, but said she backs the governor’s move.
“I think in the state of Tennessee we need to have fewer employees who make more money each,” said Rep. Gerald McCormick, the House Republican Leader. “You’ve got to be competitive in pay in order to attract good people.”
In the next few months, lawmakers will be considering cuts to the state budget after about $2 billion in federal stimulus dollars run out. Haslam has offered to reduce the number of state employees from 5,100 to 4,800 but give remaining employees a 1.6 percent raise after a four-year pay freeze.
The raises are part of a larger strategy to reform state government, said a Haslam spokesman.
“State pay will never rival the pay in private sector, but if we’re going to attract great people we’re going to have to at least make it comparable,” spokesman David Smith told TNReport in an emailed statement.
“He has hired a great team to make state government more efficient and effective, and these commissioners should end up saving the state more money than the increase in their salary. They’ll do it by managing smartly, which is typically done by providing better service with fewer people,” he continued.
The following chart is courtesy of Gov. Bill Haslam’s communications office.