BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to give nearly $1 million in pay raises to his staff, cabinet secretaries and other political appointees ran into questions Tuesday from state lawmakers who noted Louisiana’s long list of needs.
Rep. Gary Carter, a New Orleans Democrat, said he was concerned to learn about the pay hikes while the governor’s 2020-21 budget proposal recommended a $500,000 reduction in the state dollars sent to parish senior citizen centers.
“It’s hard to justify to my seniors how we’re going to cut their funding as it relates to necessary services” while the governor is giving salary boosts, Carter told Desireé Honoré Thomas, an assistant commissioner with Edwards’ Division of Administration.
“Help me understand that,” Carter asked her.
Thomas replied: “I think the governor proposed those raises because he had people who had been working for four years with no adjustment to pay.”
Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee scrutinized the raises as the panel started digging into the details of Edwards’ $32 billion budget proposal for the financial year that starts July 1.
Rep. Dustin Miller, an Opelousas Democrat, questioned whether the raises are appropriate.
“We do have big needs in infrastructure and other departments, he said.
The Edwards administration in February 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 increases. State lawmakers also received the list.
The raises come in the Democratic governor’s second term as he faces none of the budget gaps that he grappled with across his first term. A package of tax hikes passed two years ago stabilized the state’s finances.
The Edwards administration said most of the salary increases are 4%.
More than a third of the raises — about $368,000 in annual salary hikes for governor’s office workers and employees in the 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.
Another $553,000 in pay increases for cabinet secretaries and their chief deputies will take effect July 1 with the start of the new budget year and are included in the governor’s budget proposal.
A handful of cabinet-level officials whose salaries already topped $200,000 — such as Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson and Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson — aren’t in line for pay hikes. Edwards’ Chief of Staff Mark Cooper refused a raise after working on the salary analysis and recommending the pay raises to the governor.
Edwards’ staff and political appointees aren’t the only state workers getting raises.
Thousands of rank-and-file state employees known as “classified employees” are in line for pay hikes, under a redesigned pay scale system Edwards approved in 2017. Also, pay raises for judges, parish district attorneys and assistant district attorneys were approved by lawmakers last year.