Senate's power-sharing accord carries a cost
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
OKLAHOMA CITY -- A power-sharing agreement in the evenly split state Senate resulted in at least $638,600 more spent to run the upper chamber, records show.
The money went for pay raises, additional staff, furniture and other items.
Following the Nov. 7 general election, the Senate was evenly split along partisan lines: 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans.
The equal division of the Senate was a first in state history, and it led to a peculiar power-sharing agreement.
Democrats -- who also could claim the tie-breaking vote of the lieutenant governor -- would control the president pro tem's office for 11 months of the year. Republicans would take the office in July.
"The power-sharing agreement in the Senate worked extremely well in 2007," said Paul Ziriax, leadership assistant to Senate Co-President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City.
"The Senate not only managed to make the trains run on time, but also accomplished a lot for the people of Oklahoma," he said.
Ziriax said under the agreement, the leaders of both parties now get equal budgets for staff and equal office space. The Senate saw a budget increase of about $1 million for 2008.
The agreement resulted in the hiring of employees and raises being given to others.
Salaries and benefits alone totaled $385,100, according to figures provided by the office of Senate Pro Tem Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater.
Of that figure, $197,500 was for newly hired employees. Another $146,100 was for salary increases. Benefits were $41,500.
The largest chunk went to an increase for Morgan's aide Vic Thompson, who got an increase of $76,000, bringing his pay to $150,000.
"He is the right hand, the lead staff person for the pro tem," said Robin Maxey, Morgan's media assistant, who also got a raise of $8,400, bringing his salary to $80,000. "He meets with senators and lobbyists and advises the pro tem."
Thompson came out of retirement to work for Morgan, Maxey said.
A state senator makes $38,400 a year. Those in leadership roles earn more. For example, Sen. Morgan earns an additional $17,932, while Coffee earns $12,364 more.
Maxey said his own salary was increased because he was given supervisory duties for four other employees.
Maxey's counterpart, Ziriax, leadership assistant to Co-President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, saw his salary increase by $23,000, bringing it to $80,000, the equivalent of Maxey's pay.
Ziriax said his salary increase was due in part to new areas of responsibility.
His duties, which aren't the same as Maxey's, include media and policy advisory for Republican leadership, Ziriax said.
On the Republican side, former House Member Fred Morgan serves as senior policy adviser and legal counsel for Coffee, earning $98,000. Because he is a former House member and is paid out of nonappropriated funds. There is a two-year limit on former lawmakers being paid with state-appropriated money, Ziriax said.
The money to pay Morgan comes from rent paid on mailboxes in the Capitol by lobbyists and agencies, Maxey said. In the recent past, that money had not been spent, Maxey said.
Other costs associated with the power-sharing agreement included $210,000 in additional pay for executive assistants. The additional money was necessary because the power sharing called for a Republican and a Democrat to share committee leadership, as opposed to a single chairman. Executive assistants assigned to a co-chairman or co-chairwoman earn more than those who are not.
All other leadership executive assistants also got additional pay.
The agreement also allowed $43,500 for office furniture and fixtures. The figure does not include remodeling expenses, Ziriax said.
"To provide equal office space, some unbudgeted expenses related to offices were incurred by both Republican and Democratic offices," Ziriax said.
When asked why Democratic personnel were not reduced and Republican resources increased to accommodate the change, Maxey said it was a decision made by Morgan and Coffee to add staff on the Republican side.
"Sen. Coffee is underbudget on his allocation for Republican staff salaries," Ziriax said. "Sen. Coffee has operated his office with fewer staff members at less cost for salaries than the Democrats' leadership staff."
Barbara Hoberock (405) 528-2465