Top Corbett staffers get five-figure raises |

Top Corbett staffers get five-figure raises

HARRISBURG — Even as he continues to grapple with tight finances and cuts to state departments and agencies, Gov. Tom Corbett has quietly granted five-figure raises to a handful of his top staffers.

At the end of September, Corbett approved $10,000-a-year raises for four aides on his 15-person executive and high-level staff, according to payroll records. The increases occur as other departments have struggled with layoffs and unfilled positions to accommodate Corbett’s policy of reined-in spending in tough economic times.

Since taking office in January 2011, the Republican governor has made fiscal responsibility a central theme and advocated steep budget cuts.

Kevin Harley, Corbett’s spokesman, said the raises were an effort by Steve Aichele, the governor’s chief of staff, to level the playing field and bring senior staff into the same pay grade. Before the raises, for instance, deputy chiefs of staffs were paid differing amounts.

Critics counter that a governor should lead by example when asking others to tighten their belts.

“Gov. Corbett preaches sacrifice but practices plunder,” said Eric Epstein, founder of the self-styled reform group Rock the Capital. “This shows how disconnected government is from reality.”

According to payroll documents, those receiving $10,000 raises were two deputy chiefs of staff, E. Christopher Abruzzo and Luke Bernstein, who were bumped to $145,018 from $135,003, a roughly 7.5 percent increase; and policy and planning secretary Jennifer Branstetter, who also will be paid $145,018, up from $135,003.

Corbett added $10,000 to the salary of the secretary of legislative affairs. Annemarie Kaiser, who was making $135,003, left last month for a seat on the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Her replacement, Christopher Carusone, is being paid $145,018.

One other Corbett executive — his new chief of staff, Aichele — received a raise with a promotion. Aichele had been general counsel before Corbett named him chief of staff in May. As general counsel, Aichele was paid $148,812. When he became chief of staff, he began making $154,133, the same salary as the person he replaced.

Corbett paid his top staffers more than his predecessor, Democrat Ed Rendell, according to an Inquirer analysis of salaries when he took office in January.

At that time, the average salary for an executive staffer under Corbett was $129,303, compared with $116,440 for top aides to Rendell when he was leaving office.

Since Corbett took office, the executive branch has 2,000 fewer positions. Just under 300 of those cuts were achieved through layoffs, the majority of which came from the Departments of Labor and Industry and Public Welfare, according to records from the state Office of Administration.

The governor has made steep cuts to public school aid and public welfare programs.

Chris Borick, a pollster and political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said raises in government are frequently viewed with suspicion.

He said some people would look at the $10,000 raises and think they are a pittance. But the majority of Pennsylvanians, he noted, will never receive such a raise.

“At a time when you are cutting salaries and programs, it’s hard to make the case that your people deserve a raise,” Borick said. “The juxtaposition of one with the other really does raise eyebrows and will not sit well with the public. But as a governor, it’s a hit you have to be willing to take.”

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