PROVIDENCE — Governor Daniel J. McKee is poised to boost the pay of top administrators by up to 20 percent — and that’s only half the size of the raises he wants to hand out.
Director of Administration James E. Thorsen has scheduled a public hearing for 2 p.m. Wednesday on the raises, which would bring those salaries to the halfway mark between their 2022 levels and target salaries proposed in the fall.
Some of largest increases in base pay would include an increase from $135,000 to $162,500 for the director of the Department of Children, Youth and Families — an increase of 20 percent — and from $150,765 to $175,383 for the director of the Department of Health — an increase of 16 percent.
The smallest raise would be an increase from $166,918 to $168,459 for the director of the Department of Labor and Training — an increase of less than 1 percent. The average pay raise for those positions would be nearly 8 percent, so the eventual target would be an average raise of nearly 16 percent.
The proposal comes as five of the department head positions, including DCYF and the Department of Health, are filled by acting directors.
Department of Administration spokeswoman Laura Hart said that in 2022 the Department of Administration and McKee’s office identified target salaries for each Cabinet position, basing those figures on an analysis of similar government positions throughout Southern New England and the nation.
“Rather than move current salaries to their identified targets in a single increase, the state chose a fiscally responsible, incremental approach where Cabinet salary increases would occur over time until those target salaries were reached,” Hart said in a statement. “This approach puts Rhode Island agency leadership on a path to attract and retain the best candidates for these positions of high skill and responsibility.”
By statute, the administration may propose new Cabinet salaries once a year, Hart noted. That typically happens in March, but last year the General Assembly agreed to postpone the Cabinet salary hearing until the fall, she said.
State law says that once the Department of Administration proposes salary increases, those raises must be referred to the General Assembly by the last day in April, and they will go into effect 30 days later “unless rejected by formal action of the House and the Senate acting concurrently within that time.”
The issue of pay raises arose during the 2022 gubernatorial campaign, and Republican candidate Ashley Kalus blasted McKee, a Democrat, over proposed pay hikes for top administrators.
“The degree to which Dan McKee is tone-deaf never ceases to amaze Rhode Islanders,” Kalus said at the time. “Fifty-eight percent of Americans are currently living paycheck to paycheck, and McKee decides to give members of his Cabinet, who are already making six figures, significant raises — nearly double the salary for some.”
On Monday, Kalus said, “You get what you elect. I stand by my statement. They elected him governor, and it was known before the election.”
A difference of $20,000 in salary is not going to make a difference at that level of leadership, Kalus said. “They can always make more money in the private sector,” she said. “You need to bring in people who really want to change things, and to do that you need a governor who wants systemic change. Ultimately, history will be the judge.”
House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, issued a statement, saying, “I have not been briefed and will wait for the outcome of the public hearing.”
Senator Louis P. DiPalma, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said the committee will be reviewing and discussing the proposed pay raises on Tuesday as part of a budget review.