McCrory's office said secretaries in four of the eight Cabinet departments will receive $128,000 annually and three other departments are getting $135,000. An eighth secretary - Aldona Wos in health and human services - is taking a $1 salary.
Legislators had set secretary salaries in Gov. Beverly Perdue's administration at just under $122,000 but last summer gave her successor the ability to set compensation. Departments were on their own to locate funds for the higher pay.
The move outraged many on the left who have been fighting for raises for rank and file state workers for years.
"It's not just about the optics. It's about hypocrisy," said Progress NC's Gerrick Brenner. "It's do as they say, not as they do."
"This governor has no clue what the average North Carolinian faces in terms of trying to make ends meet and pay bills," said Marybe McMillan, with the NC AFL-CIO. "I think it's indicative of this administration that they are tone deaf to the average North Carolinian. They seem to want to reward their campaign donors with high appointments and with generous salary increases."
But others, including Democratic consultant Brad Crone, said you get what you pay for.
"It's pretty cheap," said Crone. "I think when you compare the operations and responsibilities that they have, the salary schedules for our secretaries is absolutely pitiful. It's a penance."
It's a point McCrory echoed.
"I've got people running multi-billion dollar operations in state government and I think their current salaries need to be, at a minimum, meet the needs of someone running a $5 billion operation," said McCrory.
McCrory said his overall salary structure will be lower than Bev Perdue's was.
The Legislature didn't change the governor's salary. It remains at $141,265.