Is Georgia Governor Nathan Deal's Wage Increase For Top Officials Really Cronyism?

Posted: Feb 28 2015, 11:31pm CST | by , Updated: Feb 28 2015, 11:44pm CST, in News | Latest Political News


Is Georgia Governor Nathan Deal's wage increase for top officials really cronyism?
Credit: Getty Images
  • Top Georgia officials gained 10% wage increase.
  • Plans to cut budget on many other programs.
  • Rest of state wonders why.

In the 2016 fiscal year budget, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal increased top state officials wages while proposing to reduce health care insurance on part-time school employees.

The Atlanta Journal-Constituion is reporting that Georgia Governor Nathan Deal's recent reelection offers a windfall for top aides and senior officials.

Greg Bleustein and James Salzer noted that majority of the aides saw a 10 percent increase on a six-figure salaries while the governor's longtime chief of staff, Chris Riley, earned just under a thousand less than the elected official. Deal earns $139,339 and Riley commands a whopping $138,500.

An investigation lead by the paper also revealed that many of the recently appointed and promoted staff were paid higher than previous employees. Not to mention the significant windfall for many of top appointed officials.

Riley defended the accelerated pay as a means to keep well-situated aides at the governor's side instead of elsewhere. “Senior staff could easily earn significantly more and have less stress than they do in the governor’s office."

Deal's chief of staff also believes that the increase will help eliminate feelings of financial immobility from a mandated pay freeze between 2011 and 2014. "But their dedication to the governor and state has allowed this team to remain constant and not a revolving door."

More questionable is who earns what in the governor's office. And why.

Homer Bryson is the new head of the Department of Corrections and earns $11,000 more than the previous commissioner, even though Bryson has never lead a state agency. Other newly appointed officials benefiting include Chris Carr, economic development chief, and Chris Tomlinson, executive director of the State and Roadway Toll Authority.

And Corrina Robinson's new position as the state Non-Public Postsecondary Education Commission produces $27,000 a year more than her predecessor. Similarly relevant is the fact she is the wife to Deal's communications chief Brian Robinson. Before the latest appointment, Robinson worked as the disability services ombudsman and held a seat on the commission's board.

As the freeze thaws, so does the economic growth for positions just recently filled. Yet at odds with the pay hike, is the governor's own projected state budget for 2016.

In the middle of the 2015 fiscal year, "state and local governments faced tough budget conditions due to declining revenues and federal policy makers have chosen to implement lower spending levels." And offered an argument that since the Great Recession began, the "government sector in the U.S., combining federal, state, and local activity, had been a drag on growth” and “faced tough budget conditions due to declining revenues and federal policy makers have chosen to implement lower spending levels.”

Salaries may not be a lower spending level however.

As government spending required even more austere measurements, those closest to the governor faced little financial sacrifice. July marks the end of the 2015 fiscal year and the increases do not cover performance reviews, bonuses or added income for top executives.

While Deal doles out pay raises, many part-time school employees faced a threat of slashing of health care subsidies, including bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

Quentin Hutchins, an Atlanta Public Schools bus driver, described the injustice of budgetary restraints in education and efficient school spending. “It’s ironic that he’s awarding his top staff with more pay while proposing cuts to those of us who transport Georgia’s most precious cargo.”

If “precious cargo” is not considered important, perhaps Deal’s personal security team doubled salaries should be reexamined. And the obvious discrepancy hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Georgia House leaders denied the insurance cuts, but now local school districts will be forced to handle the discrepancies with a $102.8 million "employer contribution."

Georgia Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker, believes “people at the top get raises and the working people don’t”—saying the national epidemic of cronyism is starting to roost at home.

“We’ve seen teachers who have lost real buying power over the last few years. State employees, if you take into consideration inflation, are almost all making less than they were 10 years ago.”

Running a union training program in Stone Mountain means that Tucker is looking toward the majority of Georgians. “We need to address those workers, not just people we interact with at the Capitol.”

The reality of many people comes down to networking. “If you have contact with the decision makers, the governor, the Legislature, you get raises.”
Mark Butler works as the elected Labor Commissioner with a set salary of $122,000 a year. However, his chief of staff, Brooke Lucas, saw a $20,000 jump—a surge that raised her salary to $145,000—and makes more than the governor.

Butler agreed to the additional money because “other agencies keep trying to hire her. If you lose some top people to another state agency for a higher salary, it’s your fault.” Doing three-jobs-in-one means less manpower is needed and seemingly keeps the budget slimmer.

In mid-term election ads last year, opponent Jason Carter, grandson of President Jimmy Carter, argued that Georgians currently earned $6,000 less than a decade ago—if adjusted for inflation. While the numbers were based on 2012’s census numbers, 2013 shows a higher deficit of nearly $6,500. The numbers match with Tucker’s own assessment.

Unfortunately, as the governor slashes benefits like part-time school employees health insurance subsidies and accelerates the pay of a few, constituents may feel the burden in pockets.

Charlie Flemming, president of the AFL-CIO labor union’s Georgia chapter, wonders how the two-tiered system may effect the job market’s future. “Georgia’s workforce is overburdened and understaffed already. It’s inherently unfair to raise wages for the leaders and not for the rank-and-file.”

Deal also promoted a lower unemployment rate during the elections. However, the Department of Labor shows a rate of 6.9%, which is 1.4% higher than the national average and maintaining the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

When speaking to Politifact’s Nancy Badertscher in September, Wesley Tharpe of the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute believed “incomes and the ability for families to make a living and make ends meet is really lagging behind” the national recovery of the Great Recession. As a state, construction and housing industries dominant the market and the slow moving real estate rebound does not support the necessary job growth. And as a right-to-work state, employment is not guaranteed through union membership.

As Governor Nathan Deal continues to reduce budgets and reassess the system at the start of his second term, many lower ranked employees may look for jobs in other states as wage increases are limited to a select circle. Lucas isn’t the only one employee looking to be counted and compensated.

Meanwhile, Flemming thinks voters should demand an overhaul. “It’s about time we say enough is enough.”


Sources: AJC, Department of Labor, Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget

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