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Friday February 22nd, 2019 6:14PM

Top officials in governor's office getting raises; as much as 10 percent in some cases

By The Associated Press
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ATLANTA (AP) -- Many of Gov. Nathan Deal's top aides and senior executive branch officials got raises for 2015 that will far exceed what most teachers and state workers can expect in coming year.

The analysis ( http://bit.ly/1aCZ8Lw ) comes from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The newspaper found that several top aides in Deal's office saw their pay rise by about 10 percent, nearly pulling even with the boss's $139,339 salary, though that figure doesn't include benefits such as his residence in a posh Atlanta neighborhood.

Chief of Staff Chris Riley is now making $138,500, an $8,500 increase. Six other top lieutenants got $12,500 raises to $137,500.

Many Cabinet agency heads and other political appointees also got notable bumps, while several new appointees are getting significantly higher salaries - 30 percent in some cases - than their predecessors.

The AJC analysis found that the trend held for positions that Deal controls and for appointees who answer to independent boards. And none of the figures include benefits or additional compensation, such as year-end bonuses paid out to certain agency heads at the fiscal year's end.

Separately, legislators are considering granting $12,000 pay hikes for state Supreme Court and Appeals Court judges, pushing them to $179,000 per year. Pending proposals also would give increases at the trial court level, where some Superior Court judges already earn as much as $185,000.

Raises in the executive branch require no such legislative approval.

Riley said the raises are necessary to keep from losing good aides who had not received raises since joining the administration in 2011.

"Senior staff could easily earn significantly more and have less stress than they do in the governor's office," Riley told the AJC. "But their dedication to the governor and state has allowed this team to remain constant and not a revolving door."

Deal, meanwhile, has proposed a budget that would give raises of about 1 percent to most state workers. School districts also could get money for teacher raises, but well shy of 10 percent.

At the same time, lawmakers are considering transportation tax increases, along with a sales and income tax overhaul that, while potentially revenue neutral to the state, could leave some working-class and poor households with an overall higher tax bill than they have under current law.

The U.S. Census Bureau last estimated per-capita income in Georgia at $25,182 in 2013 dollars. The median household income was estimated at $49,179.

Quentin Hutchins is an Atlanta Public Schools bus driver, making him one of the school-support staff workers who could lose health insurance benefits under Deal's budget proposals.

"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," Hutchins told the newspaper.

Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson cast the raises as incorporating into government the worst abuses of the private sector in an era of skyrocketing CEO pay and flat or falling wages for rank-and-file employees.

"If you have contact with the decision makers, the governor, the Legislature, you get raises," said Henson, a Tucker Democrat. "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."

Other 2015 increases came with turnover in certain jobs.

Deal's newest appointee to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, Brian Owens, is paid almost $150,000. That's about what he made running the state prison system, but it puts him well ahead of his new colleagues, whose pay ranges from $121,596 to $127,990.

Owens' successor at the Department of Corrections, meanwhile, is now paid $160,000.

Corinna Robinson is the new director of the Non-Public Postsecondary Education Commission, which regulates private for-profit schools. Her annual salary is $125,000, a $27,500 or 28 percent bump over her predecessor. She previously sat on the commission's board. She's also married to the governor's communications chief, Brain Robinson, among the members of the governor's inner circle who got 10 percent raises.

And at the State Emergency Management Agency, new director Jim Butterworth checks in with a $159,829 salary, 31 percent more than the $122,003 salary of his predecessor Charley English, who stepped down in the wake of the 2014 ice storms that left metro Atlanta in a traffic jam and yielded intense criticism for the Deal administration.

English, though, hasn't left the emergency management agency. He's the new deputy director, getting paid the same $122,003 salary he earned before.
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