SADOW: Staffer Pay Raises In Elected Officials’ Offices Don’t Help 2015 Chances

Some presumed candidates for Louisiana governor in 2015 got called onto the carpet by state legislators for their alleged overspending on employee pay raises. The legislative querying produced some campaign propaganda points favoring certain of them at the expense of others.

The House Appropriations Committee, in its initial budget review for the next fiscal year, suddenly seems to have discovered that elected executive branch officials can give these pay raises, even as “merit” pay raises for other executive branch civil service classified employees have not happened for four years and for some unclassified employees even longer. Why this sudden realization that legally these officials could do this materialized now, from among individuals who wanted to vote themselves pay increases less than five years ago, remains a mystery, but became a topic of interrogation for some elected executives.

As they pointed out to varying degrees extenuating circumstances, such as the need to keep what they believed were key employees, that they budgeted to be able to do this, and that attainment of merit standards by employees meant these people deserved this. In addition, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon claimed Department of State Civil Service rules forced him to grant four percent pay raises when money was available, and Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said the law made him grant raises. These were in reference to mandated civil service rules that said certain personnel actions required raises to be given if money was available. But agency heads have discretion in making these dollars available: they could have gone to filling more positions or to finance other activities, so to claim they were “forced” to give raises is an overstatement.

Besides them, also asked to explain increases were state Treasurer John Kennedy and Secretary of State Tom Schedler. Interestingly, the issue was not pressed with Donelon, although his budget typically derives roughly 90 percent of its funds from self-generated sources, far above these other departments. Today, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne testified about his office’s budget and for Culture, Recreation and Tourism’s, where he has assumed the secretary’s role there as well, and he was not asked, either.

Of significance is that Dardenne, Kennedy, and Strain are very likely candidates to try to succeed Gov. Bobby Jindal, so the way it appears in the way presented by some legislators is that these politicians in giving raises were doling out to their own people while others had to go with naught, which might perturb voters. In terms of overall budgets, Kennedy’s increase was 0.7 percent of his total end-of-2012 budget, while Strain’s was 0.8 percent.

Kennedy in particular got a black eye because he has established a glass house on these kinds of issues. Often given to lecturing other parts of government about how to cut spending, where one of the suggestions he makes is to cut contracting expenses, Kennedy said his alternative to not giving these raises would be to let them go and resort to contracting – which was a strange admission that the same job could be done more cheaply that way yet he was not pursuing it, and that maybe contracting had advantages and perhaps it should not be reduced as he recommends. This in addition to past criticism directed at him accusing him of hypocrisy in his argumentation about contracting.

It also produces a comparison among these three officials and how they have managed budgetary decline. Until the end of 2012 From the end of 2009 (he took office a few months later as the result of a special election), the combined numbers for Dardenne’s positions are a decline of 8.5 percent in dollars and almost 24 percent in numbers; from the end of 2007 Kennedy’s dollars declined by 8.8 percent and positions declined 12 percent; and for Strain’s from then his dollars went down about 25 percent and positions 27.5 percent.

By the above metrics, Strain has done the best job of budget cutting, including from the end of 2009, followed by Dardenne, then Kennedy (whose numbers are not as impressive as Dardenne’s from 2009). At the same time, Strain and Kennedy took a public relations hit by being identified as feathering their own personnel nests while other executive branch employees don’t reap this benefit.

It’s more than two-and-a-half year before the contest gets decided. Do not be surprised if this issue and that of who has done the best job of departmental budget-cutting get dragged into the campaign either to bolster their own credentials or to count coup on an opponent.

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