Utah legislative leaders have greatly increased the pay range of top legislative staffers and are considering hiring former Salt Lake Olympic chief financial officer Gordon Crabtree to run their budget office.

House Speaker Mel Brown, R-Midvale, denies increasing the pay ranges was done to entice Crabtree, who was Gov. Mike Leavitt's chief of finance before quitting to take the Olympic job, back into state government."No connection," Brown said, adding that lawmakers have been looking at increasing the pay ranges for some time, before Crabtree quit the Salt Lake Organizing Committee last year and before the current budget chief, Leo Memmott, announced his upcoming retirement at the end of the 1998 Legislature in March.

But other GOP leaders told the Deseret News that finding a replacement for Memmott - and having Crabtree as one of the job finalists - was one reason leaders acted now to adjust the top pay scales.

Not so, said Crabtree, who acknowledged he has expressed interest in applying for the legislative post. "I don't expect them to do anything out of the ordinary for me," he said.

That includes trying to match what he earned at the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. "State government doesn't pay that kind of salary," he said. "Money never has been an issue with me. You have to like what you do."

Crabtree was making more than $197,000 as SLOC's senior vice president of finance when he decided to quit last September for what he described as personal reasons.

Those reasons largely involved the stress of working under a new boss at SLOC, Frank Joklik. Several high-level organizing committee officials have quit since Joklik took over as chief executive officer last summer.

Crabtree also gave up a post-Games pension amounting to more than $27,000 a year, although after his SLOC resignation he was hired as a consultant by the organizing committee. His duties have included lobbying lawmakers on Olympic-related issues.

The consultant contract is open-ended. Crabtree declined to specify the amount he earns monthly from the contract, but organizing committee financial reports set it at $9,500 a month.

One GOP leader said if Crabtree takes the legislative job he would have to quit working for SLOC. No problem, Crabtree said. "I'd be committed 100 percent to the state position," he said.

On Tuesday the Legislative Management Committee - a group of House and Senate GOPand Democratic leaders - endorsed a new pay range for the directors of Legislative Research and General Counsel, Legislative Auditor General and Legislative Fiscal Analyst. They also adopted new pay ranges for the clerk of the House and the secretary of the Senate - the top posts in those bodies who oversee the actual running of the House and Senate.

Senate President Lane Beattie, R-West Bountiful, said it was time the Legislature's top staff people were placed on the same salary footing as top appointees in the executive branch.

The salary ranges of the Legislature's top managers are now equal to the ranges of five top executive branch officials in Gov. Mike Leavitt's administration: the executive directors of the Department of Transportation, Department of Workforce Services, Department of Health, Department of Human Services and a newly created post of chief information officer.

The salary range for those executives - and now the top three legislative managers - is between $68,600 and $100,900 a year. Deputy state personnel director Dick McDonald says no one makes the top wage of $100,900 a year.

One difference is that the top administration officials oversee departments with hundreds of employees and budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, while the top legislative managers oversee departments with only dozens of employees.

But Memmott's office does put together a state budget of $6.4 billion, while the other legislative staffs draft all bills, conduct all research and audit all state departments for the Legislature.

Currently, legislative auditor general Wayne Welsh and the retiring Memmott make $87,111 a year, and legislative research director Richard Strong makes $89,492 a year, public records show.

Changing the salary ranges would allow legislative leaders to pay Crabtree more than would have been allowed under the old salary step system the Legislature was using, state officials said.

Leaders also set new salary ranges for House chief clerk Carole E. Peterson and Senate secretary Annette B. Moore. Those ranges are $46,300 to $73,600. With those ranges it appears Moore will get a small pay raise. She currently makes $46,354, state records show. Peterson, who has been the House clerk for more than 25 years, makes $53,473.

If legislators do land Crabtree as their new chief budget officer, it may help lawmakers better understand Olympic financing - a sore point for some time.

Various legislative leaders and rank-and-file members have long complained that they haven't been privy to Olympic budgets and financial plans.

Under an agreement signed by former Gov. Norm Bangerter, the state is the final guarantor of all Olympic debt, even though SLOC officials pledge that the 2002 Games will not lose money.

Crabtree was one of the first hires made by former Olympic boss Tom Welch after Salt Lake City was awarded the 2002 Winter Games nearly three years ago.