Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The salaries of Gov. Gary Herbert and the state's other elected executives should be raised nearly 40 percent, a commission charged with studying executive and judicial compensation recommended Tuesday.
"We think there is a very strong case to be made there needs to be an adjustment in the salaries of these five elected officials," said Roger Tew, chairman of the Utah Elected Official and Judicial Compensation Commission.
Tew told members of the Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee that it has been a decade since the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer or auditor saw a significant pay increase.
Now, nearly all the members of the governor's cabinet and a number of local government officials earn more than the $109,900 the state's top job pays. Utah's other elected executives earn 95 percent of the governor's salary.
Last year, the independent compensation commission first made the recommendation for a 36.6 percent boost to $150,000, based on the amount earned by the Utah Supreme Court chief justice.
However, with allegations surfacing against then-Attorney General John Swallow shortly after he took office in January, lawmakers chose not to take any action on executive salaries. Swallow recently stepped down.
Tew told the legislative committee Tuesday that the commission wanted to make the case again for higher salaries even though "these carry with them political dynamics."
Several of the legislative leaders who serve on the committee had questions about the report, including how to justify an increase of that size to the public. Herbert has recommended a 1.25 percent pay hike for state workers.
"It's not a competitive issue," Tew said, noting the elected posts will always attract candidates no matter how they pay, unlike other positions in government where workers can earn more in the private sector.
"These are probably the hardest salaries to deal with," he said.
At some point, Tew said, the question becomes, "Are we setting the criteria that you must be independently wealthy" to run for the offices?
The commission's report stated that "unrealistically low compensation" could lead to the perception that elected executives will need to find other sources of income while in office, including political funds.
The committee took no action on the report, but Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said dealing with the issue just "gets harder and harder" the longer lawmakers wait.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said it's hard to tell what will happen to the recommendations.
"The commission makes good points," Lockhart said. "But it's an incredibly difficult political decision to make obviously."
Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said lawmakers want to hear the raise is needed from the elected executives.
"It's probably going to take those offices, those executive offices, being involved in the discussion and saying, 'Look, it's time we need to do this, even with the politics associated with it and the difficulty of doing it,'" Okerlund said.
The governor was attending a meeting out of state Tuesday, and his office had no comment on the proposal.
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