John Bel Edwards plans nearly $1M in pay raises that are a ‘tiny fraction’ of the budget

6 days ago The Advocate 0

Entering a second term without the budget woes of his first, Gov. John Bel Edwards plans to dole out nearly $1 million in pay raises to his staff, Cabinet secretaries and other high-level political appointees across state government.

The Edwards administration on Thursday provided The Associated Press with a list of more than 150 top-level political appointees who have already received or are in line to receive the salary hikes. State lawmakers also received the list.

The Democratic governor’s chief financial adviser, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, mentioned the raises in his presentation of Edwards’ budget recommendations for the upcoming 2020-21 year, describing it to lawmakers as a “small increase.” The AP received the list after asking Dardenne’s office for specific details.

Dardenne said the “unclassified employees” across Louisiana state government hadn’t received pay raises over the governor’s first term, even as other rank-and-file civil service workers did. He said most of the increases are 4%.

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Edwards spokeswoman Christina Stephens said the pay hikes represent a “tiny fraction of the overall state budget.” She said they “were included as part of the governor’s budget proposal only after two years of budget stability and an improved economic outlook for the state.”

More than a third of the raises — about $368,000 in yearly salary hikes for governor’s office workers and employees in Edwards’ Division of Administration — started the day after the governor was sworn in to his new term in January, according to information provided by the division.

For example, Edwards’ top lawyer Matthew Block’s salary grew from $180,000 to $187,200 on Jan. 14, according to the data. Pay for the governor’s top coastal adviser, Chip Kline, rose from $165,000 a year to $171,600 at the same time. And the salary for Edwards’ deputy chief of staff for programs and planning, Adren Wilson, was raised from $125,000 to $150,000.

Another $553,000 in annual pay bumps for Cabinet secretaries and their chief deputies will take effect July 1 with the start of the new budget year, if lawmakers agree to the increases in next year’s budget.

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For example, under the budget plan, the salary for Veterans Affairs Secretary Joey Strickland would rise from $130,000 to $140,000; Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc’s pay would grow from $136,700 to $150,400 a year; and Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson would receive $194,600 a year, up from $176,900.

“We undertook a very careful analysis of those salaries and recommended to the governor a 4% increase for unclassified employees and a higher percent increase on a very limited basis for some executive employees in order to equalize them commensurate with what their job involves,” Dardenne said.

A handful of Cabinet-level officials whose salaries already topped $200,000 — such as Dardenne, Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson and Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson — aren’t in line for pay hikes. Also, Edwards’ Chief of Staff Mark Cooper, who earns a $190,000 salary, refused a raise, Dardenne said.

Not all of the money for the pay raises comes from state tax and fee dollars. Some of the salary increases will be paid with federal or other revenue sources, according to information from Dardenne’s office.

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Edwards’ staff and political appointees aren’t the only state workers getting raises.

Thousands of rank-and-file state employees, known as “classified employees,” also are in line for pay hikes, according to the budget presentation Dardenne gave to lawmakers. Those raises stem from a redesigned pay scale system Edwards approved in 2017, aimed at reducing high turnover in certain agencies. The adjustment to the civil service pay rates included a sliding scale pay increase system.

Meanwhile, lawmakers last year approved raises for judges, parish district attorneys and assistant district attorneys that take effect July 1.