CHEYENNE — Some top officials in Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead’s office have received steep pay raises in recent years even as the state has struggled to fund salary increases for other workers.
Base payroll for the governor’s office has risen over 11 percent over the past two years, from $1.97 million in 2014 to $2.19 million this year, according to the pay figures Mead’s office provided. The number of employees, meanwhile, declined from 24 at the start of 2014 to 23 at the start of this year, including one employee who works on a monthly contract.
“If you look at the salaries of the people in this office, corresponding with the job that I see them do, and the work that they put in, I think that as I look at other salaries in state government, I think they’re appropriate salaries,” Mead said in a recent interview.
Annual pay for Kari Gray, Mead’s chief of staff, has gone from $126,000 at the start of 2014 up to $175,000 this year — up 38.8 percent over two years. Pay for Tony Young, Mead’s deputy chief of staff, has climbed from $105,000 a year at the start of 2014 to $123,500 this year, up 17.6 percent over two years. A couple of other employees in Mead’s office who have received promotions have seen raises over 20 percent in the past two years.
During the legislative session that wrapped in March, some Wyoming Republican lawmakers criticized steep raises to top-ranking state employees and pushed an amendment to freeze future increases.
But Mead, himself a Republican, vetoed a section of the state general appropriations bill approved by the Legislature that would have barred many state employees making over $100,000 a year from receiving pay raises over the next two years. He said it’s critical that the state be able to act to retain and attract top administrators.
Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, sponsored the pay-freeze budget amendment that Mead vetoed.
“To me, that is something we should not be doing,” Jaggi said of pay raises for state workers making over six figures. “How the governor can come up with giving Kari Gray a $30,000-plus raise with no increase in responsibility?”
Senate President Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, spoke against the pay-freeze amendment and the Legislature ultimately didn’t override Mead’s veto.
“When you begin to look at the high salaried it’s a pretty small fraction of your overall budget, you’re talking probably 1 percent or lower,” Nicholas said in a recent interview. He said senior administrators are always being solicited by outside firms. “If they left tomorrow, they would have attractive offers,” he said.
Wyoming has bumped overall funding for executive branch employees 2.3 percent a year over the past two fiscal years. That money has been allocated according to a formula that considers starting pay along with job performance and other factors in setting raises.
Faced with declining energy revenues, Mead implemented a state hiring freeze last October. The Legislature approved no money for overall employee raises for the next two-year funding cycle that starts this July.
Mead said he considers himself fortunate to have Gray continue in the job because it provides continuity in the office. Gray, of Glendo, is an attorney and has served as chief of staff since Mead was first elected in 2010. She worked on Mead’s first campaign and previously at the Wyoming Department of Family Services.
Mead, now in his second term, would be precluded under state law from seeking re-election. He noted everyone who takes a job in his office understands they could be unemployed when a new governor comes in.
The state retains a private company, the Hay Group, to review salaries and recommend how to bring them in line with regional standards. State employees have received differing levels of raises based on their performance and how their pay stacked up against the market, Gray said.
Dean Fausset, director of the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information, said Gray is ranked as an “executive management eight,” the state’s top rank of administrators. The Hay Group study determined the pay range for her classification is appropriate, he said.
In response to her own recent raises, Gray said, “It was within the parameters of the Hay Group study and the recommendations, so I don’t have any comment beyond that.”