Gov. Tom Wolf gave several of his top staff members double-digit pay increases following his November re-election.
Wolf’s office defended the increases as necessary to bring government pay in line with their private sector counterparts.
According to Penn Live, which first reported the story, Wolf’s office gave double-digit pay increases to nine employees, including five deputy chiefs of staff, who now receive $148,069 per year, and three deputy press secretaries, who currently earn $117,790. The staff members received raises between $25,000 to $33,000 per year.
“The governor’s office is responsible for the functions of a 70,000 person, $80 billion organization that is the second largest employer in Pennsylvania,” J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for the governor, said in a statement. “These positions are some of the most high-level in state government (and) are responsible for overseeing the entire or specific work of multiple major state agencies.
“The salaries are competitive with senior level private sector salaries,” Abbott said. “These staffers are expected to be on-call 24-7 to make sure the functions of the government run smoothly. Changes were made to reflect fairness for their level of work and the compensation of their peers.”
Wolf’s office said the deputy chiefs of staff were hired as special assistants and paid in the $90,000 to $110,000 range. However, they took on additional responsibilities overseeing specific agencies and subsequently elevated to the level of deputy chief of staff, Abbott said.
The deputy chiefs of staff for former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, earned $145,018 in January 2015 when they left office, according to Abbott. Wolf defeated Corbett in the November 2014 gubernatorial election.
“They seem very out of line with what the private sector is doing,” Penn Live quoted Nathan Benefield, vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, as saying. “I don’t know that many workers have gotten 30 percent increases, much less $30,000 raises this year.”
“It’s frustrating for taxpayers to see (the governor offer pay) increases above what they’re seeing in the private sector and getting them on top of what is already a very generous benefit system,” Benefield added, according to Penn Live. “The benefits in the public sector are greater than what we have in the private sector so it’s a double whammy on taxpayers who have to pay for it and aren’t seeing those types of benefits and salary increase themselves.”
The organization declined to comment further on the story.
According to PennWATCH, a state transparency site, the highest paid employee in the governor’s office, aside from the governor himself, is Mike Brunelle, chief of staff, who receives an annual salary of $171,033. Three others – William Danowski, secretary of legislative affairs; Mark Nicastre, director of communications; and Margaret Snead, secretary of policy and planning – receive $150,436 per year.
Wolf’s salary is $197,968.
The increases come as Pennsylvania’s revenues are more than $800 million higher than anticipated. So far this fiscal year, the Keystone State has collected $29.2 billion in General Fund revenue, which is $828.2 million or 2.9 percent above initial forecasts.