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Some state agency chiefs get hefty raises

Some executives to get double-digit increases, while most state employees in line for 3 percent hikes.

The Legislature gave most state employees a 3 percent pay raise over the next two years, but top state agency executives got much larger pay hikes — some that are much more than many of their employees make in annual take-home pay.

Criminal justice director Brad Livingston soon will be making $260,000, up more than $73,000 from his current salary — a nearly 40 percent increase.

That’s more than the chiefs of some smaller state agencies are paid in a year, and Livingston will be paid as much as Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek. Janek is getting a $35,000 increase, with his pay rising from $225,000 to $260,000.

The raises are included in the new state budget, approved by the Legislature two weeks ago. Unless Gov. Rick Perry vetoes them, they will take effect in September.

Of the 107 executive-level positions listed in the final version of Senate Bill 1, the state’s spending blueprint for the next two years, 73 top officials received pay raises and 34 others did not — including all elected state officials, whose pay remained the same. Only a handful of those executives who received raises got 3 percent, the same as employees.

Among significant increases, Board of Pardons and Paroles Chairwoman Rissie Owens’ salary will jump from $126,500 to $172,000; Texas Parks and Wildlife Director Carter Smith will go from $143,000 to $180,000; Katherine Thomas, executive director of the Texas State Board of Nursing, will increase from $92,600 to $120,000; and William Kuntz, executive director of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, will go from $150,000 to $175,000.

In a statement, Livingston’s spokesman expressed thanks to the Legislature for the raise, which he said Livingston will accept.

“We appreciate the Legislature acknowledging the responsibilities associated with managing and leading an agency that is one of the largest in the state and has a vital public safety mission,” said John Hurt, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

But the president of the Huntsville-based union that represents correctional officers didn’t see it that way.

“That’s shameful,” said Lance Lowry, a correctional sergeant. “As a leader of the team, he should get the same percentage increase as his rank-and-file employees get.”

Texas’ correctional officers got a 5 percent pay hike in the budget, far less than the 14 percent increase that the union had requested last fall, citing deteriorating working conditions and chronic staffing shortages at several prisons in the oilfield areas where most other jobs pay much more. They were the most vocal among several groups of state employees who actively lobbied for raises during the legislative session that ended in May.

Texas correctional officers are among the lowest paid in the United States.

Employee groups at other state agencies have made similar arguments in recent months for pay increases that also fell short of their expectations. Most state employees haven’t received a pay raise in four years.

Gary Anderson, executive director of the Texas Public Employees Association, the oldest non-union public employees organization in Texas, said that while rank-and-file agency employees should have received larger raises, “we do not feel like the executives at these agencies aren’t deserving of the increases they got.”

As for Livingston, Anderson said he leads the state’s largest stand-alone agency and, according to a study late last year, was among a number of other agency heads who were underpaid. “He has a monumental task,” Anderson said of Livingston. “If you think about the number of employees he supervises, of the difficult mission and operations he oversees, it is a lot of responsibility.”

Even so, he added, “all state employees are deserving of a much more competitive wage.”

Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, who has been one of Livingston’s harshest critics in recent years, said he hadn’t known the specifics of the raise. “It’s a tough situation, because our correctional officers need to be paid more, for sure, but the people who are responsible for running these large agencies also have to be paid competitively,” he said.

Brian Olsen, executive director of a correctional officers’ union that represents more than 6,000 guards, said they will likely not agree that Livingston needed such a hefty raise.

“I can guarantee you this isn’t going to go over well,” he said.

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