The president of the US, who earns $400,000 a year, traditionally has the top-paying federal job.
In Rhode Island, of course, we have our own way of doing things. Governor Donald L. Carcieri’s fiscal 2007 earnings will be $105,195, less than a number of state department heads (the chiefs at Corrections and Children, Youth and Families are slated to make a respective $158,169 and $141,701) and Cabinet members ($147,072 for the director of the Department of Administration, and $158,242 for the health insurance commissioner). RI’s budget Web site, www.budget.state.ri.us/operating_ budget.htm, shows many state employees taking home more than the guy with whom the buck stops.
Those charged with articulating Carcieri’s message to the rest of us (overseen by Steve Kass, a former talk-radio rival of mine) take at least a hefty $500,000 out of the budget. With a fiscal 2007 salary of $118,846, Kass brings home $13,600 more than the governor. Jeff Neal, Carcieri’s diligent press secretary ($94,769) and Michael Maynard, the accessible director of public information ($82,738), ably assist him. Two “media coordinators” split another $61,000, while speechwriter Alysia Harpootian earns $74,588 (a presidential speechwriter earns about $50,000).
Things get murkier when one tries to nail down exactly who does what (for example, Deb Smith, a top Carcieri aide oversees two special projects coordinators, which cost a combined $131,000. One has to wonder, particularly for a governor who touts efficiency in government, does it really require a legion to communicate with the state’s press corps?
Kass says he is responsible for “overall communications strategies . . . to help the governor think through political, government, and legislative implications of the messages that are delivered to key audiences through the media . . . . [while] Neal acts as a direct liaison to reporters.”
The governor, “sometimes tasks me with efforts that extend beyond the media office,” Kass says, such as the distribution of hurricane evacuation maps and the recruiting of lawyer Joe Rodio to aid Madeline Walker when she was evicted last year for delinquent taxes. Kass says he also reviews press for other state departments, although most have their own staffers to communicate with the media.
The state also has chronically unfilled positions. Although vacant, slots for the chief information officer job (approximately $110,000) and at least two deputy executive assistants/communications ($100,000 each) remain in the budget for the governor’s office.
The state’s projected $104.8 million deficit should be adjusted by subtracting the cost of items like these, which show up on the expenditure side year after year, though unspent. If vacant positions aren’t necessary — in perpetuity — they should be eliminated and their cost removed from the budget, lest it be falsely inflated.
In Rhode Island, good news travels fast, and bad news travels faster. Governor Carcieri is not a dolt: he’s a smart executive who succeeded by selling ideas. His message, whether one agrees with it or not, isn’t so oblique as to require a gaggle of staff filters.
Carcieri should look closer to his own desk to cut fat. If a $104.8 million deficit is really looming, perhaps the governor ought to charge his communications chief with Kass’s longtime broadcast specialty — railing about government waste.