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Next governor will have say over department head pay

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Republican legislative leaders are in tune with the concerns of Democrat Gene Conti, who complained this week that he is underpaid as the state’s transportation secretary.

That’s why they amended the state budget this year to give North Carolina’s next governor new power to set salaries for non-elected state department heads.

“These agencies have gotten huge in terms of budget and responsibility,” said state Sen. Richard Stevens of Cary, one of the Senate’s chief budget-writers.  

Conti said he took a big pay cut in 2009 when he gave up a private-sector job to take charge of DOT, with its $4 billion budget and 12,000 employees. Stevens agreed with Conti that the statutory salary limit – $121,807 this year for the heads of DOT and seven other agencies – could make it hard for the state to attract the best administrators.

So whoever wins the November election to succeed retiring Gov. Bev Perdue will have the authority to set these salaries, starting in the fiscal year that begins in July 2013.

“Either Gov. Dalton or Gov. McCrory, we think, will need the flexibility to bring in the best-qualified people to run these agencies,” Stevens said. “We think the state will be better off at the end of the day.

“We did not provide additional money for this. If the next governor pays the health and human services secretary double what the current secretary is making, he’ll have to find that money elsewhere in the budget,” Stevens said.  

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About the blogger

Bruce Siceloff reports on traffic and transportation. A News & Observer reporter, editor and blogger since 1976, he took over the Road Worrier column in 2003. Lately he drives I-40 with the cruise control set at 68 mph. You can e-mail Bruce, call him at 919-829-4527, check out his Crosstown Traffic blog or follow him (@Road_Worrier) on Twitter.