Rep. Tammie Wilson came up with an idea on how to restrain the governors from giving more money to their employees than the state salary scale allows, but that bill was instantly vetoed by Alaska’s governor Mike Dunleavy. Wilson wanted to forbid hiring people who would work temporary duties that were not designated by the legislature and save the State’s money this way.
Lawmakers side with Wilson on the issue, saying that the ability to hire “temporary exempt” employees gives the governors permission to employ favored Alaskans without focusing on merit. This way, it won’t be possible to make those political employees who, in the end, stay permanently on those jobs without the supervision of legislature and whose salaries are not provided in public records.
This bill would revoke a provision that was passed by the legislature in 2013 that actually allows the executive branch of the government to increase salaries for some of the state positions without even consulting with the legislature.
Dunleavy’s main disagreements were with the part of the bill that will eliminate the power of the government. He pointed out that the possibility of hiring people without consulting with the legislature is something each government needs, since that way state agencies will be able to give a job to people who have specialized skills and experience.
He gave a list to Wilson that contains 40 positions, and all of them were filled without consulting with the legislature. Additionally, there are no public records when they were hired. So, all of those positions would be directly affected if this bill was to take effect. One of the people on the list is the director of the Department of Transportation, who actually earns $198,732 per year (excluding the benefits), and there is no one on that list who is paid more than him. As a matter of fact, his salary is higher than the governors’, which means his position would be taken into questioning.
The governor gave a written statement and said that this bill would solve a significant problem, but it would eliminate an important tool, which is actually the State’s ability to hire and retain employees who have the highest qualifications. And since he cannot veto this bill partially, he will keep working with Wilson to lower the power of special positions and to reduce the creation of temporary positions.
As it was expected, Wilson is disappointed by the governor’s decision since she has been working on this in order to prevent loopholes that exist in the hiring policy of Alaska. She believes that she is actually put in an awkward position and abused by the people who are taking advantage of those loopholes.
When she was asked to comment on the governor’s decision, she only pointed out that the administration had their chance to bring this veto into questioning and raise their concerns, but they decided not to.
Actually, the lawmakers did support House Bill 48. It passed on their elections, and the House of Finance Committee added the section about removing the ability for people in high positions in the State to increase salaries one-sided. That happened at the end of March, which was a month before its final Senate passage.
Under the Alaska Constitution, the legislature has the power to overthrow the governor’s veto. As a matter of fact, when lawmakers next convoke (which can happen in a special or regular session), they will have the ability to vote for an override. They have five days for that, and if they do not do it, then it will be considered that the governor’s decision is final. Believe it or not, this is the first time ever that Dunlavy used his power to neglect a piece of legislation.
According to Wilson, the legislature couldn’t determine how many employees were hired without consulting them. Of course, those are the positions that won’t appear in budget documents, and they are the main reason Wilson is trying to come to financial records.
This year, House and Senate had the testimony and during that Alaska Department of Administration also couldn’t provide a financial report, but they published a four-page list, with the partial account.
One of the people who supported House Bill 48 was Reo, Zack Fields, and he said that it is inappropriate for the governor to hide how they spend public money since that should be transparent.
Wilson herself said that HB 48 is not there to prevent the governor from hiring an educated and experienced people he wants. He could still do that, but it needs to go through a regular procedure that would be public. She is upset by the way the governors use that rule for temporary hiring and make those positions permanent in the end.
She gave an example of that, using one of those positions. It happened in 1989, and there were many others that happened in the 1990s and early 2000s. Wilson said that she still didn’t talk with members of her House Republican and that this is a topic that remains to be discussed.