Tuesday, March 11, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley created a new pay grade for top members of his administration, including Public Service Commission Chairman Steven B. Larsen, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.

The discovery follows recent findings that Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, gave more than $600,000 in pay raises to 47 of his top aides, even as state workers face potential cuts in pay raises.

Under the new pay grade, EX91, Mr. O’Malley will pay four employees as much as $235,000.

The previous cap for high-ranking employees of a Maryland governor was $159,632, but governors frequently exceeded the figure.

“The creation of the new scale allows for more transparent and open reporting,” O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said yesterday.

The new grade increases the cap for state employees paid under Maryland’s executive pay plan, including top aides to the governor, the comptroller and the attorney general.

Three of the four jobs already exceeded the executive plan cap. The fourth job, the PSC chairman position, was added to the plan, allowing whoever fills the job to earn regular pay increases along with the rest of those in the executive pay plan.

Mr. Larsen, whom Mr. O’Malley hand-picked to run the commission, is now slated to earn $188,700 annually. He previously earned $118,280.

The job was previously in the same category as the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and other high-ranking state officials. The category does not guarantee pay-grade or cost-of-living increases.

Mr. Larsen, who presided over a 72 percent increase in Baltimore Gas & Electric Company customer rates, will now be entitled to regular cost-of-living pay raises and merit-pay raises.

The executive pay plan was created by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat, to improve pay for top officials.

Changes in the pay plan — including pay raises, reclassifications or the creation of new jobs — had to be approved by the Board of Public Works until 2000, when Gov. Parris N. Glendening pushed legislation removing that requirement, on the grounds that it was hard to maintain talent when they were routinely scrutinized.

Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, replaced the board scrutiny with a regular reporting requirement.

However, Mr. O’Malley’s budget secretary, T. Eloise Foster, testified in favor of a bill last month that would have stripped that reporting requirement from state law.

Salaries and pay for state workers have become increasingly contentious topics as lawmakers wrestle with a new budget deficit, expected to result in $330 million to $570 million in budget cuts.

Many new government services — including plans to clean the Chesapeake Bay, fund stem-cell research and expand health care services — have already taken large hits in the Senate budget committee.

However, some budget experts said the state needs to be able to pay top talent to help ride out the budget storm.

“When you are in a budget crunch, you really do want the best people you can have,” said Cecilia Januszkiewicz, budget secretary under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Mrs. Januszkiewicz managed the executive pay plan with Mr. Ehrlich from 2005 to 2007.

Mr. O’Malley also shifted the job of his chief of staff and longtime political confidant Michael R. Enright into the new pay grade.

Mr. Enright is slated to earn $22,000 less a year than his predecessor, Chip DiPaula Jr., who earned $175,000 while working for Mr. Ehrlich.

The other two employees of the new pay grade are State Chief Medical Examiner Dr. David R. Fowler and Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services Dr. Michelle A. Gourdine, who will earn $223,196 and $202,785 respectively.

Thousands of other state employees — many of them working in the state’s universities — earn more than $100,000. However, the governor has broader latitude in determining the pay and classification of members of the executive pay plan.

Members of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the union representing the most state employees, rallied in front of the State House yesterday to ask for better pay.

“In the past, the budget has always been balanced on the backs of state employees,” said Ernest Prince, a 16-year veteran at the Eastern Correctional Institute. “If we in corrections don’t get an increase, you’ll know where it went.”

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