By Len Lazarick
Maryland's next governor would get a 20% pay raise to $180,000 a year under recommendations made Tuesday night by the Governor's Salary Commission.
Four other statewide officials -- the lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, state treasurer and secretary of state -- would also get a 20% pay hike over the four years of their terms from 2015 to 2018.
All these "constitutional officers," except for the lower paid secretary of state, would make $149,500 by 2018.
The governor currently makes $150,000, and the others now make $125,000 a year, except for the secretary of state -- the only cabinet member in the Maryland Constitution -- who makes $87,500.
For the governor elected next year, the proposed salary would go up 10% the first year starting at $165,000 in 2015 and then go up $5,000 a year to $180,000 in 2018. For the four others making $125,000 now, the 2015 salary would go up 10% to $137,500, and then rise $4,000 a year to $149,500 in 2018
'Modest increases' after nine years of no raises
"We recommended several modest increases," said Robert Neall, a former state senator and former Anne Arundel County executive who chaired the seven-member commission. "This is partly a catch-up," along with projected increase, since none of these officials have had a raise in nine years.
This is Neall's third time on the commission, appointed by Senate President Mike Miller. The commission is created by the Maryland Constitution to make recommendations for the salary of the governor every four years. In keeping with custom, Gov. Martin O'Malley also asked them to make recommendations for the other constitutional officers.
Under the Maryland constitution, state elected officials cannot have their salaries cut or raised during their term of office, except through action taken prior to their election for that term.
According to a briefing report from the Department of Legislative Services, O’Malley currently has the 12th highest governor’s salary in the nation, and lower than that paid the chief executives in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia. The governor of West Virginia makes the same $150,000 a year.
The other statewide officials rank in the middle range compared to the same officials in other states.
General Assembly can reject, but not raise
The recommendations of the Governor's Salary Commission will be submitted to the General Assembly in January, which is permitted to reject them, but legislators are not allowed by law to lower any of the salaries from current levels or increase any of the recommendations.
A similar General Assembly Compensation Commission made recommendations on Monday that legislators get a 16% pay raise to $50,331 over the four years of the next term.
Both commissions in 2010 proposed pay hikes for the governor, legislators and other constitutional officers. These proposals were rejected largely due to the condition of the state economy and budget, which forced state employees to take a pay cut through unpaid furlough days.
"There is only one point in time when the constitution permits this recommendation to be considered," Neall pointed out. "If you miss the boat, four years have to pass before that [pay raise] can happen."
Given the improved budget situation, Neall saw no reason why people should oppose the increases "unless you're against raising government salaries" in general.
The salary increases will allow these officials to "recapture the purchasing power" lost over the last nine years, he said.
The governor also gets to occupy Government House, the governor's mansion across the street from the State House. The private quarters are on the top two-floors of the four-story building.
The mansion comes with a budget for food and entertainment, and has a staff of chefs and other personnel. The governor and family also are provided with state owned cars and SUVs driven by state troopers who are part of the Executive Protection Detail, which is headquartered in part of the mansion.
Recommendations on pension and retiree health benefits
At the direction of the legislature, the salary commission also looked at the governor's pension and retiree health benefits.
The Governor's Salary Commission recommended that, in keeping with the changes in state employees retirement benefits made in 2011, the retirement age for the governor be raised from 55 to 62 years.
The commission did not propose any changes to the pension payout. Governors who complete one full four-year term are entitled to one-third of the salary of a sitting governor. After two full four-year terms, they get half the salary of the current governor.
The other constitutional officers receive the same pension benefits as other state employees, accumulating benefits based on their salaries and years of service.
Under the commission recommendation, the next governor will also receive the same health benefits as other state employees, earning one-sixteenth of health care coverage for every year of state service.