Payback Time?

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Posted on May 28, 2012 in News

Seven Days
By Andy Bromage [05.23.12]

Gov. Peter Shumlin says he doesn’t need a raise. Secretary of State Jim Condos says he does. So does State Auditor Tom Salmon, who is putting three kids through college. State Treasurer Beth Pearce? Either she doesn’t need a salary bump or isn’t taking it. Ditto for Attorney General Bill Sorrell and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.

The dawn of the 2012 campaign season finds Vermont’s top officeholders in a tricky predicament — one that involves their taxpayer-funded salaries.

Last week, Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding sent a memo to the state’s “exempt” employees — those not covered by a union contract — explaining how they’ll be affected by the restoration of salary cuts that date back to 2009.

Back in the Great Recession, the state’s unionized workforce sucked up a 3 percent pay cut to help balance the budget during tough times. Then-governor Jim Douglas asked Vermont’s top elected officials to voluntarily accept a 5 percent pay drop in solidarity with the union grunts. All of them eventually did.

Now that revenues are rebounding, state employees are getting their 3 percent back, plus a 2 percent cost of living increase. Just in time for summer vacation season!

Salary hikes for union employees are automatic. But the exempt employees whose salaries are set by state law — i.e., the statewide officials Vermonters elect every two years —  have a choice: Take the 5 percent pay restoration or decline it.

If they take it, politicians risk looking insensitive to recession-weary voters in an election year. Refuse it, and they might be declining money they actually need — and rightfully deserve — simply to make a point that could end up being lost on the voting public.

What to do?

If you’re Shumdog Millionaire, who reported a net worth of $10 million in 2010, you refuse the money, of course.

“The governor’s not going to take the salary restoration as provided by law,” Spaulding tells Fair Game. “It’s not the right time to increase the salary at the upper end. Too many Vermonters are still struggling, and it’s too early in the economic recovery.”

That means Shumlin will continue earning $136,700 a year rather than the $143,977 he’s authorized by law to collect.

Condos says he does plan on asking for his $95,000 salary to be restored. Why? “Because that’s what the state says I’m entitled to, and I think everybody should be compensated for their work.

“I’m not a wealthy person,” adds Condos, noting that his current $90,000 salary is not even close to the governor’s and is less than what most of the gov’s agency secretaries make. That would be $115,000, which will increase to $122,000 on July 1.

“I basically live check to check,” says Condos. “I’m an average Vermonter from that standpoint.”

Salmon is taking the extra money, too, “for the good of the office. It’s not really going to affect me.” Salmon announced last week he wouldn’t seek reelection to another term as auditor this year — in part because he needs a job that pays enough to put his kids through college. Salmon estimates that he could fetch a salary of “between $160,000 and $220,000, reasonably” in the private sector.

As auditor, Salmon earns $90,000 and will make $95,000 after the pay cut is restored. He said the job should pay between $118,000 and $125,000 to attract qualified professionals.

See full article here.

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