“We’re telling the rest of state government that you have to do more with less,” said [Sen.] Illuzzi. “I’m not sure giving pay raises to a select few is fair to the rank-and-file employees of state government who don’t have access to power.”
Lawyers, Sums and Money
Gov. Peter Shumlin isn’t the only guy in Montpelier giving out pay raises . Now top legislative leaders are getting in on the action.
Last Friday a legislative committee approved a proposal to give sizable pay increases to a select group of legislative staffers who advise the state’s 180 lawmakers.
The reason for the proposed pay boosts, according to House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, is that the legislative council’s top lawyer and director, Emily Bergquist, is leaving mid-session. To fill her shoes overseeing about 50 staffers, Bergquist devised a plan to divvy up her job among four handpicked staff, including three attorneys. Part of her salary — of more than $90,000 — would finance pay raises up to $10,000 for each of them.
The lawyers were among the “exempt” — or appointed — legislative council staffers who received pay raises ranging from 1 to 7 percent as of January 1. Similarly paid “exempts” took a 5 percent cut in 2009.
The deal came as a surprise to Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex-Orleans), who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee and has oversight of the legislative budget. He said Friday was the first time he learned about the pay-raise plan. The meeting at which it was decided had no agenda and wasn’t recorded, Illuzzi added.
Smith and Campbell said the meeting was open to the public, even if the locale was hard to find — in the basement room of a state office building a block away from the Statehouse, accessible only by swipe card.
Illuzzi said he opposes the pay increases because they send the wrong message to other state workers.
“We’re telling the rest of state government that you have to do more with less,” said Illuzzi. “I’m not sure giving pay raises to a select few is fair to the rank-and-file employees of state government who don’t have access to power.”
Illuzzi doesn’t dispute that legislative staff work hard during the session. But “I would dare say there are state employees who are working just as hard 12 months out of the year, and they aren’t getting pay raises,” said Illuzzi.
Campbell defended the proposal, claiming some legislative council employees work into the wee hours to keep up with the demands of the session. Along with more work and increased responsibility should come more pay, he reasoned —especially if it doesn’t increase the legislature’s overall spending plan.
“How can this happen when other state employees are doing more work, when they may not be getting remunerated for extra time?” Campbell asked rhetorically. “The thing is, I don’t know if that isn’t happening. We don’t deal with other state employees; I don’t know what their duties are and what they are paid.”
I’m sure any of the 650 or so state employees who’ve been laid off in the past two years would be happy to fill Campbell in on the details. Better yet, he should ask those who are still on the payroll, doing more work for less pay.
One Plus One Equals $400,000
Gov. Peter Shumlin suggested I “check the math” in last week’s column . He didn’t like the way I added up the salaries of some of his appointees.
Well, guess what?
No correction required. Shumlin is spending about $400,000 more on his team than Gov. Jim Douglas did on his.
In a one-page memo, Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding claimed $140,000 of that $400,000 is salary increases. The rest is due to filling vacant posts and creating new ones to hire, as the gov put it, “the best people I could find to get the job done.” Despite the pay raises, Spaulding said several contenders withdrew their applications due to “uncompetitive compensation.”
“Many folks seem to think all the money went to pay raises, even though that is not what your column said,” noted Spaulding in an email to “Fair Game.”
At least 17 of Shumlin’s appointees are earning more than their predecessors, according to Spaulding’s memo, some of whom spent eight years working their way up the pay ladder. In two cases, the salary difference is about $30,000.
One of the jobs Shumlin created is chief of ConnectVermont, which is charged with expanding cell and broadband service throughout Vermont. Former Comcast exec Karen Marshall got that job, which pays $115,000.
Shumlin’s team reached out to union leaders last week, and again this week, to quell concerns that the Democrat is more interested in hiring high-paid executives than in replenishing the ranks of frontline employees, who are being asked to absorb another $12 million  to help close the deficit.
In a memo, Spaulding said their one-page explainer is designed to “provide some clarity to the dialogue.”
What’s not clear?