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Florida Chiefs Get Massive Pay Raises; Surgeon General’s Up 72%

Leaders of several state agencies are seeing large pay increases compared to their predecessors, some getting boosts in the tens of thousands. Officials say they’re trying to achieve parity as compared to other states.

(TNS) — Florida’s new surgeon general received a pay raise of 72 percent compared with his predecessor, as leaders of several state agencies under Gov. Ron DeSantis saw their paychecks grow this week under a hike approved by the Legislature this year.

The biggest increase was for Dr. Joseph Ladapo, the new surgeon general who also runs the Department of Health. Scott Rivkees, the last person in the job, received $145,000 a year, but Ladapo will earn $250,000.

Other large increases include Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault, whose pay rose 36 percent, from $146,823 to $200,000, and Simone Marstiller, Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, whose salary went up to $200,000 for a 21 percent increase.

Lawmakers set aside $1.2 million for the raises in the budget year that began July 1, but DeSantis only settled on how to allot the money this week. The raises will be retroactive to July 1, with the exception of Ladapo, whose first day was Tuesday.

DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said the raises were based on the size of the agency in employees and total budget, as well as the “complexity of subject matter” under the agency’s jurisdiction.

In addition to his salary as surgeon general, Ladapo will make $262,000 as a professor of medicine at the University of Florida under an agreement between the school and DOH, bringing his total annual salary to $512,000.

During budget talks, legislative leaders said the money was requested by DeSantis so he could offer competitive salaries comparable with those offered by other states.

“I know it’s something that the governor has talked a few times about being able to give some of his agency heads a raise, and obviously we’re looking for parity as it relates to other states,” House budget chief Jay Trumbull, R- Panama City, said in April. “Specifically you can look at the DOT Secretary who I think makes $140,000 or something like that now and letting him have some parity as it relates to other secretaries across the country.”

The salary increase for Thibault puts him slightly above his counterpart in Alabama, John Cooper, who makes $192,000, but still well below Russell McMurry, the Georgia Transportation Commissioner, who received a $100,000 pay hike this year to take his salary to $450,000, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

Other raises were comparatively modest. Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Florida Lottery Secretary John Davis and Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom saw their salaries rise less than 3 percent, from about $146,260 to $150,000.

The rest of Florida’s state workforce also received a 3 percent pay raise last year, a $249 million boost for 90,000 employees. But it was the first time in nearly a decade lawmakers approved an across-the-board pay hike for state workers.

In the current year budget, state workers’ minimum wage rose to $13 per hour. Senate President Wilton Simpson, R- Trilby, advocated for that move to prepare the state for the jump in minimum wage voters approved in 2020. The minimum wage is set to go from $8.65 to $10 per hour on Sept. 30, then rise $1 every year until hitting $15 in 2026.

Some workers have seen targeted raises and bonuses in recent years. The Legislature has approved pay increases of around 3 percent for prison guards and highway patrol officers, for instance, to try to reduce the high turnover among those workers. Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch saw his salary increased 23 percent, to $180,000, as part of the agency head pay raises.

DeSantis has also pushed for a salary increase for some teachers in 2020. Lawmakers inserted $500 million in the previous year’s budget, and lawmakers added $50 million in the current year, a move designed to raise the average minimum salary for teachers to $47,500, but some school districts remain below that level.

©2021 Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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