Outside the official portrait and ability to live in a historical mansion in Carson City, Nevada’s next governor is in line for another perk — a significant bump in pay.
The next governor is due to receive an annual salary of $163,474 once the term begins in January 2019 — a $13,901 raise from the salary alloted to Gov. Brian Sandoval during the past four years.
The automatic pay raise is also a positive for state employees, who outside a handful of high-profile exemptions have a salary ceiling tied to 95 percent of the governor’s compensation.
The ascension of a new governor also potentially marks the first time that a bill passed 13 years ago designed to keep executive branch salaries free from political pressures could take effect, after it was derailed during the 2008 financial downturn.
The change came through a bill in the 2005 legislative session, when lawmakers decided to raise all of the salaries of the state’s “constitutional” officers (governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and controller) tied to the increase in the Consumer Price Index over the last eight years — reflecting the last time state lawmakers agreed to raise the salaries.
Although the original version of the bill would have created automatic salary increases to the governor and other executive officers based on the CPI, Republican Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick asked and amended the bill to tie any bumps in pay for lawmakers and executive branch officers to salary increases granted to state employees.
The bill immediately raised the governor’s pay from $90,000 a year to $117,000, with another increase to $141,000 between 2007 and 2011.
Once Sandoval took office in 2011, pay for the position increased to $149,753 because of a cumulative 6 percent increase in cost of living adjustment pay increases approved by the Legislature over the previous two fiscal years.
But that automatic pay increase came at an especially awkward time, given that the state economy tanked in 2008 and with lawmakers approving more than $1 billion in budget cuts during the 2009 legislative session, while also rejecting a bill that would have prospectively reduced the executive-branch salaries.
Facing a budget crunch, Sandoval announced that he wouldn’t take the increased salary, and would give himself a 4.6 percent reduction in salary in line with his proposed cuts to state worker pay.
But Sandoval, or any governor or elected executive branch member, can’t automatically reduce his pay, as the state Constitution grants only the Legislature the power to set compensation for Nevada’s six constitutional officers. So Sandoval and other executive branch offices were required to donate portions of their salary back to the state.
Sandoval did not receive a pay raise for his second term after winning re-election in 2014, but thanks to a succession of cost of living increases for state workers (1 percent in fiscal year 2016, 2 percent in 2017 and 3 percent in 2018 and 2019), the next governor is due for a significant pay bump, placing Nevada above the average of other states in gubernatorial compensation.
According to a 2016 survey by the Council of State Governments, governors received an average salary of $137,415 per year. Maine Gov. Paul LePage received the lowest salary at $70,000, while Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf received the highest compensation at $190,823.
Though no state employee will see a similar automatic bump in pay following the swearing-in of the next governor, the increased gubernatorial pay will allow maximum state employee salaries to rise all the way up to $155,300 a year.
The compensation limit has some wide carve-outs — it doesn’t apply to dentists and physicians employed full-time by the state, or officers and employees of the Nevada System of Higher Education. It also exempts several high-profile state-employed figures including the Assistant Attorney General and chief of staff in the Office of the Attorney General, the Chief Clerk of the Nevada Supreme Court, the General Counsel of the Commission on Judicial Discipline, the Chairman and members of the Nevada Gaming Control Board and Nevada National Guard officers.
Although at least one candidate for governor, Steve Sisolak, has pledged to donate his salary to charity if elected, Legislative Counsel Bureau director Rick Combs said in an email that it wouldn’t affect maximum salaries for state workers.
“Although a Governor could donate all or a portion of his or her salary to the State or to some charity, the statutorily required salary for that position would remain the same and other positions in state government should not be affected by a decision on the part of the Governor to donate all or a portion of his or her salary,” Combs said in an email.