Governors' Salaries Show Decline in Pay

After steadily inching upward, the average pay for states' chief executives slid a bit in 2010.
by | April 7, 2011

By David Combs, Stateline Staff Writer

Just like American workers, whose pay has slipped in recent years, the average salary of U.S. governors also has begun to slide.

According to the Council of State Governments' most recent compensation survey, the average governor's salary was $130,595 in 2010 -- down 4 percent from the year before.

Much of that decline is attributable to California, which reduced its governor's salary from $212,179 in 2009 to $173,987 in 2010. Pay for top state executives in California is set by the Citizens Compensation Commission. According to Chairman Chuck Murray, the state's ongoing budget problems forced the commission to reduce salaries across the board substantially. He expects another reduction of perhaps 10 percent or more this year. "We're broke," Murray says. "It's no more difficult than that."

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, wealthy from his acting career, never accepted a salary from the state. Jerry Brown, the new governor, does accept his. Elizabeth Ashford, a spokeswoman for Brown, says that given California's fiscal situation, the state must find ways to keep costs down. "The governor's salary is part of that," she says.

Two other states reduced their governors' salaries from 2009 to 2010. Florida decreased pay by 2 percent, to $130,273 (Gov. Rick Scott, a former hospital executive, does not collect his salary.) Hawaii decreased its pay by 5 percent, to $117,312.

The downward pressure on governors' pay represents a striking turnaround. Between 2007 and 2009, nearly half of the states increased their governor's compensation, according to the survey.

Some did so dramatically. Tennessee, for example, set its governor's salary at $85,000 in 2007 -- the third-lowest in the country. Pay for other high-ranking state officials also lagged what was offered in other states, not to mention the private sector. In order to make it easier to attract and keep talent, Tennessee substantially raised salaries for top executives, including the governor, whose pay went to $164,292 in 2009 and bumped again last year, to $170,340. (Former Governor Phil Bredesen always returned his salary to the state after paying taxes on it, as does the new governor, Bill Haslam.)

Idaho, Kentucky and North Dakota gave their governors modest raises from 2009 to 2010. That’s unlikely to happen again in many states for as long as the current fiscal crisis continues. Audrey Wall, Managing Editor of Council of State Governments’ Book of the States, says she expects pay will stay frozen or perhaps decline some more, for years to come.


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