Why is Ben Stevens making more than Gov. Mike Dunleavy in his new job?
In his new job with the state, former Sen. Ben Stevens is to earn $150,000 a year, according to Rich Mauer, a veteran Alaska investigative reporter.
That is more than the governor, lieutenant governor, commissioners, deputy commissioners, division directors and many others on the state payroll. Of course there are a lot of people who make more than the governor, but most of them have specific qualifications and detailed responsibilities. The Stevens job is a political post.
For an administration promising to cut state spending and focus on essential services, the hiring of Stevens at this wage sends the wrong signal to Alaskans and everyone in state government.
Mauer, in one of his final stories before retirement, dealt with the return of Stevens to government employment, more than a decade after the VECO political corruption scandal ended the former senate president’s political career.
Mauer has worked most recently for KTUU in Anchorage, but he is at heart a newspaper reporter. For more than three decades he did outstanding investigative reporting on Alaska politics and business.
Mauer’s reporting on how VECO and Bill Allen wormed their way into state politics began decades ago and stands out as a public service to Alaska.
The other reporting in Alaska on the hiring of Stevens did not mention his salary, which is something that government officials rarely want mentioned. Alaska editors used to insist that salaries be included in coverage of all political appointments, with good reason.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy earns $145,000 a year, while Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer earns $115,000. Department heads earn $141,156. Here is the history of wages for those jobs.
A 2013 report recommended that the governor’s pay be increased to $150,873, but the collapse in oil prices changed the political situation.
The statewide average salary for the 14,546 executive branch employees was $69,156 in the last fiscal year.
Stevens, 59, is one of six children of the late Sen. Ted Stevens. He was a key figure in the VECO situation and was investigated, but he was never charged with any crime.
He will be a “senior adviser” to the governor, which means whatever the Dunleavy administration wants it to mean. Stevens will focus on transportation, fishing and legislation.
Alaskans never learned what Stevens did as a senator to earn the $243,250 he was paid during his time in the Legislature by Allen, the onetime king-maker in Alaska Republican circles who went to jail as the central figure in the Veco corruption scandal.
Stevens denied taking bribes from Allen, who pleaded guilty to paying off four legislators, Stevens being one of them. In court documents against Allen and Smith, Ben Stevens was referred to as “State Senator B,” who received $243,250 from Veco, the exact amount Stevens reported to state officials in disclosure filings.
If Stevens qualifies for “tier three” retirement benefits under the state defined benefit pension plan, the new state job could be worth a lot to him in increased benefits, but the details are not public information.
Tier three covers employees who began government jobs after June 30, 1996. Employees who have a minimum of 10 years of state work qualify for health coverage at age 60.
During his career in the Senate, Stevens supported the switch from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution system.