McKee trims proposed pay raises for department heads

The big pay raise numbers for Rhode Island state department heads don’t look like they did last week.

Proposed salary hikes from Gov. Dan McKee’s administration last week for positions like the health director, the transportation director, the head of the state police, and 10 other department heads were upwards of $40,000, $50,000, and $60,000.

The raises pitched at a hearing Monday were mostly in the $10,000 to $25,000 range.

For example, the proposal went from a huge bump to $200,000 for the health director to a more modest $150,000 for this coming year.

The new list is for proposed salaries to happen right away, if they’re approved.

McKee told NBC 10 News last week that the previous high numbers were the top of a scale and that to get salaries there wouldn’t happen all at once.

“What I explained last week is exactly what we did,” McKee said Monday.

The governor maintains raises are needed to keep top people and be competitive with nearby states.

McKee, though, now says he realized he cannot make a scale like he talked about last week.

“My anticipation was that you were going to get a range. But right now, state law doesn’t let you do a range. It only lets you pick a number. So we went back in and calculated a strategy,” McKee said.

McKee was not at the Department of Administration hearing Monday on the raise proposal, but his election opponent, Republican Ashely Kalus, did show up to call out the change.

“This is a pattern of incompetence and also backing away when public pressure calls out things that he does that are simply wrong,” Kalus said of the new numbers.

Kalus also followed up on her criticism last week that that raises are too much.

“Which show a governor who is completely out of touch with the working people of Rhode Island,” she said.

McKee responded to Kalus’ criticism later in the day, saying, “Someone who just got paid up to a million dollars for one year, I think we can figure out how to pay the individuals that work for the state of Rhode Island every single day and do the work in a way that’s fair to them.”

“This can has been kicked down the road for far too long. And somebody had to step up and take the heat for this in the campaign and do the right thing,” McKee added.

McKee said he still plans to scale up the pay for positions potentially over the course of a few years.

The state Department of Administration will send its recommendation on the raises to the General Assembly within 30 days.

And Republican leaders, critical of the raises, are calling for a special session to vote on them.

Meanwhile, Kalus responded to questions about where she has lived and claimed as a primary residence, and having registered to vote in Rhode Island only early this year.

Kalus and her husband, who is a plastic surgeon, have lived in Florida and Illinois.

Kalus moved to Newport as their business had a state contract for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

She said her husband stayed behind.

“My husband is a physician. We were honest about what my husband was doing. He was taking care of patients. If you look at the timing and the facts, you will see that we’ve always been transparent. I was in Newport. He was taking care of his patients,” Kalus said Monday.

“I live in Newport and I vote in Newport. And I intend, my family is in Newport, my business is in Newport, I will stay in Newport. Talking about where I was in the past or where I was working is a distraction from the very significant news issues that have come up in the last week,” Kalus said.

McKee said, “Did she fly in from Illinois? Or did she fly in from Florida? There’s a certainly a mystery to her presence here and it makes sense to get to the bottom of it.”