Top aides to go without raises in Georgia governor’s office

Gov. Nathan Deal wanted pay raise money this year to go, in part, to help reward and retain valuable employees who might otherwise be tempted by higher salaries in the private sector.

Retention has been particularly difficult for state agencies tying to hang onto lower-paid employees, with some departments seeing 10 percent to 20 percent turnover a year.

Deal’s chief of staff, Chris Riley, took that to heart. In doling out raises set to take effect July 1, Riley approved a plan for the governor’s office that excludes those earning more than $125,000 a year — senior staff — from getting pay bumps.

Other employees on the governor’s staff will get 3 percent merit raises, plus a little extra in retention money based on how long they’ve worked in Deal’s office.

Riley mentioned the plan in a memo to state department heads last month in which he outlined how the first major state raises since the Great Recession should be doled out.

“As for the governor’s office, I elected to use the governor and senior staff’s budgeted 3% portion and redistribute among the governor’s staff to give the flexibility of greater than 3% in areas that needed to be addressed,” he wrote.

The governor earns about $139,000 a year and his pay is set by statute, so he was not eligible for a raise.

The General Assembly approved a 3 percent increase in salary money, with agencies and school districts being told they could decide how to spend it. Larger raises were set aside for employees in jobs that have seen especially high turnover, such as public health nurses and prison guards.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last month that some school districts are not passing on the full 3 percent. Others districts are having to raise property taxes to make the raises permanent, or they are giving the extra money as bonuses, rather than raises to a teacher's base pay.

Meanwhile, some department heads or the panels that govern their agencies are seeking big raises for top brass. The state ethics commission, for instance, is scheduled to vote later this month on a 10 percent raise for the panel's executive secretary.

The decision by Riley to forgo raises for top brass in the governor's office came a year and a half after most of Deal's leading aides received 1o percent raises following his re-election.