McKee doubles down on cabinet raises despite criticism

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee stood firm on his proposal to award raises to his cabinet directors, arguing that the state needs to remain competitive in order to attract and retain top talent.

The Department of Administration discussed his proposal at length during a meeting Monday morning prior to approving the salary increases.

Though McKee was not in attendance, Office of Management and Budget Director Brian Daniels read the governor’s written testimony aloud.

“We need to prioritize keeping knowledgeable, dedicated workers in the Ocean State, and that includes in the top tiers of state government where strong leadership is critical,” McKee wrote. “In order to attract the best possible leaders for Rhode Island, we need to evaluate salaries as the market and the needs of our residents change.”

Initially, the governor proposed raises of up to 43% for his 13 cabinet directors, ranging from $15,000 to $60,000.

McKee admitted in his testimony that he initially thought the suggested salaries were being presented as salary caps.

“However, it is now my understanding that, by statute, the proposals represent flat rates,” he explained. “With that in mind, I conducted a balancing test between what is best for talent development in the civil service and what is the most fiscally responsible path forward for Rhode Island taxpayers.”

The governor said at least four of his cabinet directors haven’t received raises since 2015. McKee explained that the salary increases will keep things competitive, especially since the average pay of his cabinet directors trails both Massachusetts’ and Connecticut’s averages by more than $20,000.

“The work is the same, and we compete for the same individuals and the skill sets that they represent,” McKee told 12 News at an unrelated event Monday afternoon. “We are going to level the playing field.”