House Speaker Tillis defends pay raises

House Speaker Thom Tallis (D) Mecklenburg County
July 17, 2011 7:36:03 PM PDT
North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis is defending his decision to give his staff pay raises while pushing a budget that laid off hundreds of state workers.

Tillis says his critics do not understand a business model and that he ramped up staffing as the session continued. He hired key staffers on probationary terms, paying them less at first.

"It's a business concept called a probationary period, where you bring somebody in at 75 percent of what their role typically pays until they prove that they're actually going to be in that permanent position," he explained.

Seven staffers received raises ranging from $5,000 to $35,000.

"If he thought they were not going to be satisfactory employees, then why would he hire them in the first place?" critic Doug Jackson asked.

Jackson started a website, Telltillis.com, as a petition.

"What we want is for him to give this raise money, the money that he wound up spending on raises, we want him to give that back to the taxpayers," Jackson added.

Not all critics go that far, but the criticism isn't just from the left.

"Politically, it just doesn't work, it was a misstep," said Mitch Kokai, John Locke Foundation.

Kokai says if nothing else, giving hefty raises to people already making six figures or close to it was a tone deaf decision.

"In some respects, in politics, perception is reality, and the perception was, ok, state agencies, you can take all these cuts but my people, they're going to be living high on the hog," he added.

However, Tillis says even after the raises, his staff still makes less than their counterparts in the state and on the governor's staff. When asked if he thought the raises or their timing was tone deaf, he replied, "The only regret is that I didn't convince the governor and the other branches to do the same thing."

Tillis says he will still have spent 15 less on staff than his predecessor and the end of the year.

"I'm perfectly content with the numbers," he said. "I'm very proud of my financial performance. I believe the speaker's office is going to have the best performance in terms of cost for work done than you've seen in modern times here ,and we'll see this at the end of 2011 when we're summing all this stuff up."

So far, he has spent more but he stands by that claim, saying he'll hit those numbers largely by ramping down staff in quieter times. In a couple of weeks after redistricting, it'll get much quieter at the Legislature.

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