State’s political hires making more money

By JOHN MAGINNIS and JEREMY ALFORD LaPolitics News Service

While Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration can take credit for cutting the state’s workforce overall and slowing down salary raises, the top 50 highest paid political hires, known as unclassified employees, have seen their collective pay increase by nearly $3 million over the past seven years.
According to current fiscal year figures released to LaPolitics by Civil Service, the top 50 unclassified employees in state government earn salaries equaling $17 million. That’s compared to $14 million in 2007, the year before Jindal took office.
Unclassified employees typically hold political positions that are temporary by nature and come with higher salaries. This includes elected officials, appointees, department heads, board members, assistants with decision-making authority, certain attorneys, some university staff and others.
While the majority of positions are located in higher education, there are 13 that deal specifically with athletics. The five with the largest salaries from that group are at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge:
—Athletic Director Joe Alleva: $525,000
—Offensive Coordinator Malcolm Cameron: $500,000
—Defensive Coordinator Johnny Chavis: $500,000
—Offensive Line Coach Greg Studrawa: $500,000
—Recruiting Coach Frank Wilson: $500,000
Head football coach Les Miles has a state salary of $300,000 listed, although a spokesperson for the LSU Athletics Department said the money for its coaches and directors is self-generated. The figures, however, do not include the extra cash that comes from boosters, promotional contracts and other private sources.
The highest paid executive branch official on the current fiscal year list is Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret, who has a salary of $319,999. In 2007, then-secretary Michael Olivier made $245,743.
Education Superintendent John White is in the top 50 as well, making $275,000. In 2007, the position wasn’t even on the top 50 list, although former Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas was making $252,689 when former Gov. Kathleen Blanco left office — a position that is not on the current fiscal year list.
The list of the top 50 unclassified employees for the current fiscal year, which includes some individuals who have either retired, left their positions or transferred since July 1, is available at: (http://lapolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Unclassified-20131.pdf)
The list of the top 50 unclassified employees from 2007 is at: (http://lapolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Unclassified-2007.pdf)
Democrats see opportunity in light legislative agenda
Presenting the lightest administration agenda of his six years in office, Gov. Bobby Jindal opened the regular session Monday by steering clear of the hot-button issues to be debated and asking lawmakers to improve workforce training, crack down on human trafficking and work toward a “fair and predictable legal environment.”
Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the governor’s light agenda could allow lawmakers to make headway with their own issues.
“Any time you have a vacuum you are going to have forces that move in to fill that vacuum,” he said.
So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to expand Medicaid; increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor’s office.
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans, chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said in a press conference following the governor’s speech that the administration’s budget proposal was a “farce” and that there shouldn’t be millions of dollars in need for workforce development.
But several years of cuts have led the state to this point, she added. “The problem is the investments have not been made by this administration in K through 12, nor have they been made in higher education,” Peterson said.
Electing the education
superintendent
At one time, Louisiana’s superintendent of education was elected by the people, but the Legislature made it an appointed position more than two decades ago amid criticism that the school system was floundering.
With voter angst growing over a variety of issues ranging from Common Core to charter schools, some lawmakers believe it might be time to review the issue and consider making the position elected once more.
While it probably won’t be popular with Education Superintendent John White and the man who appointed him, Gov. Bobby Jindal, the bills up for debate this session are in the form of constitutional amendments, which are veto-proof.
Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, has filed such proposals several times over the years, always failing to gain support. He’s back again with another constitutional amendment this year, but so is Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, who has never tried his hand at the issue.
Geymann also has a bill to force the three at-large members of BESE who are currently appointed by the governor to run for election, too. If that doesn’t work, Geymann has a separate measure to abolish BESE altogether.
“It’s nothing personal,” Geymann said. “People are just more active and energized about education right now. They’re running up against the wall and can’t hold anyone accountable.”
The Said It
“Everybody seems to be willing to want to spend. But that’s what the Legislature does in Baton Rouge.”
—House Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin
“I know how to get to those places. I’m not going to be pulling out a map.”
—Garret Graves, candidate in the 6th Congressional District, on campaigning down the bayou in the district’s southern end in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Maginnis and Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.

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