Martinez: The pay McCrory's Cabinet secretaries deserve

January 15, 2013 

Gov. Pat McCrory hasn’t been in office long enough to know where all the bathrooms are in the mansion, and already he’s getting beat up for giving raises totaling $78,000 to eight Cabinet secretaries. Tally up the salaries, and McCrory’s Cabinet is being paid a smidge more than $1.1 million.

Folks, that’s nothing. N.C. State pays more than that for assistant football coaches.

What has been lost in the salary silliness is that McCrory’s key appointments represent a darn good value. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos is essentially a volunteer. She’s working for $1 a year, not the $135,000 the position actually pays. Deputy budget director Art Pope isn’t taking a check. That’s another six-figure salary savings.

Of course, the raises, some as much as 11 percent, made good political theater against the backdrop of meager 1 percent to 2 percent raises that rank and file employees have received in recent years – when they received pay hikes at all.

Here’s a news flash for those who think it is unfair: Cabinet secretaries aren’t rank and file. For starters, they can easily be fired and have no civil service protection. They also can’t forget about work at quitting time. They’re on the job 24/7.

They don’t get overtime when hurricanes and emergencies require an all-hands response. They also don’t get most of the summer off like many teachers, community college instructors and university professors do.

And then there’s the responsibility. Cabinet secretaries are responsible for the professional conduct, and misconduct, of their employees, nearly all of whom they didn’t hire.

I’d also bet that Cabinet secretaries make less money than the pseudo-union leaders who represent the majority of state workers: the State Employees Association of North Carolina and the N.C. Association of Educators, for example.

Before McCrory was sworn in, there were rumblings about his having trouble landing people because of the pay. Even with raises, I’d bet that most of McCrory’s Cabinet members are taking personal pay cuts to serve.

In his last gig as superintendent of Wake County schools, Tony Tata made $250,000. As secretary of the Department of Transportation, he’ll make $135,000, similar to what a principal of a large high school is paid.

Three secretaries, William Daughtridge (Administration), Kieran Shanahan (Public Safety) and John Skvarla (Department of Natural and Environmental Resources) own highly successful businesses. Chances are their public checks will be smaller than they’re used to.

Progressive operatives I know also complain that the raises are in bad taste given McCrory’s support for a legislative plan to reduce maximum unemployment insurance benefits from $535 a week to $350 to more quickly erase the $2 billion-plus insurance debt to the federal government.

Once again, nice political theater, but the two issues aren’t related.

But while we’re on the subject, I’d prefer that my tax money, even in the form of raises, be spent on those who are actually working for the public. I detest subsidizing those who won’t accept jobs that pay less than what they are accustomed to making or don’t meet their desired career goals.

This isn’t an idle gripe. Makoto Nakajima of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia calculated that the extension of federal unemployment benefits contributed a whopping 1.4 percentage points to the unemployment rate from 2007 through 2011 (“A quantitative analysis of unemployment benefit extensions,” Journal of Monetary Economics, November 2012).

The outrage about McCrory’s raises isn’t really about money, it’s about petty politics. McCrory and the secretaries are grownups so they can take the hits. But this is the type of political sniping that turns citizens away from civic engagement at a time when we need considerable public input on a variety of issues.

Given the enormity of what we are about to tackle – economic stagnation, tax reform, Medicaid expansion, the establishment of a health insurance exchange – North Carolina can’t afford a detached or disgusted citizenry. Debate and informed criticism will be vital going forward. Political cheap shots are downright childish.

Contributing columnist Rick Martinez (rickjmartinez2@gmail.com) is news director at WPTF, NC News Network and SGRToday.com

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