FRANKFORT — With Kentucky's budget teetering near a half-billion dollar shortfall, Gov. Steve Beshear recently announced he and the lieutenant governor would return 10 percent of their salary to the state treasury.
It was a symbolic gesture, Beshear said, aimed at showing Kentucky taxpayers they're not alone in sharing the pain of the economic crisis besetting the state's cash-strapped government.
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"We should not ask of others what we're not willing to do ourselves," Beshear said at a Capitol news conference. "We are in this together."
Kentucky, like other state governments nationwide, is facing tough economic times — a $456.1 million shortfall in the fiscal year that ends June 30. And Beshear is not alone among state governors who have returned part of their salaries or considered doing so.
Across the country, governor's pay scales range from $70,000 a year in Maine to California's annual salary of more than $212,000 — although Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has waived his pay, according to the Council of State Governments based in Lexington.
Beshear's salary, which is set by Kentucky law, would drop from $124,384 to $111,945, while Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo's would slide down 10 percent to $91,437, Beshear spokesman Jay Blanton said. Other top officials in Beshear's administration also agreed to 10 percent pay cuts for 2009, a move expected to save the state some $88,000.
Beshear last week proposed offsetting Kentucky's $456.1 million budget shortfall by cutting spending in most government agencies by 4 percent; boosting the state's cigarette tax by 70 cents a pack and doubling the tax on other tobacco products. Beshear also called for a three-day unpaid furlough for all state employees.
"I fully realize that this action will not substantially reduce our shortfall," Beshear said. "Nevertheless, the lieutenant governor and I feel strongly, as the top two elected officials in this state, that we have an obligation to personally share in the sacrifices."
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has decided to return 5 percent of his $175,000 yearly salary as his state confronts a two-year projected revenue loss of about $2.5 billion. The Democratic governor wanted to show taxpayers they were not alone, Kaine spokesman Gordon Hickey said.
"People are hurting, that's the reason we have a revenue shortfall," Hickey said, noting both income and sales taxes are down in Virginia. "He understands that, and that's why he's cutting his pay."
Elsewhere among governors, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen returns his salary, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine only accepts $1 and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm returns 5 percent of her salary, according to the Council of State Governments.
"It's not going to hurt him that badly financially, and it does a lot for him in public relations," said Michael Baranowski, a political scientist at Northern Kentucky University. "So, absolutely that's a smart move."
But others say the symbolism only goes so far.
Kentucky GOP Chairman Steve Robertson said the governor's pay cut was "a lovely gesture" but does little to address the state's financial woes. Instead, he said, Beshear should organize an intense review of government spending and eliminate any waste.
"A move like this tells me that he's still more focused on the politics than the policy," Robertson said. "What he's doing does not speak to the problem on any level other than he's trying to create a headline."
But Donald Gross, a political-science professor at the University of Kentucky, said, "I don't think it has a significant impact on the state's budget, but I think symbolically it is a good thing to do.
University of Louisville professor Dewey Clayton said the move should be considered more of a morale booster than a gimmick: "Saying we're all going to do our part and bite the bullet a little bit, I think it's a very admirable thing to do."