TALLAHASSEE — To help shrink state government, the new leaders of the Legislature have brought in a stable of advisers at six-figure salaries.
In the House, incoming Speaker Dean Cannon has given salaries of at least $100,000 to 28 staffers. In the Senate, 33 will earn six figures under incoming President Mike Haridopolos.
Both leaders say the pay is justified for their skilled workers, yet the numbers stand out in a state where average wages are stagnating, One million Floridians can't find work, and Gov.-elect Rick Scott wants to eliminate up to 6,000 state jobs.
Haridopolos and Cannon, who must fill a projected $3 billion budget hole, said costs were trimmed elsewhere in the Legislature's budget. Haridopolos, for example, has consolidated numerous jobs with a stated goal of cutting $1 million from the Senate's $35.5 million budget.
"We've got to lead by example," said Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.
The payroll in the Senate president's administrative office exceeds $1.1 million — about 25 percent more than the wages in the speaker's office across the hall in the Capitol. Haridopolos' chief of staff and general counsel, Stephen MacNamara, is the highest-paid legislative staffer, earning $175,008.
Still, Haridopolos has trimmed his own administrative office payroll by 12 percent in a year when state employees have endured the fifth consecutive year without a cost-of-living increase.
Cannon said the House overall is saving money because of staff reductions, many of which took place under his predecessors. The House budget has dropped 12 percent since 2007, while the total state budget has dropped 2 percent.
"We've done what a lot of private sector companies have done," Cannon said. "We've given people raises where they were merited and let people go when it was warranted."
While Haridopolos' staff reductions and penny pinching have received media attention, Cannon's personnel moves haven't attracted the same level of scrutiny until now.
Public records show Cannon has increased salaries in the speaker's office by 1.5 percent. The top salary is $147,865 for chief of staff Mathew Bahl.
Bahl was director of Cannon's Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning during the 2010 legislative session. He was director of the majority whip's office in 2007-08 under then-Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and ran the successful 2004 House campaign of Republican Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa.
Others in Cannon's office:
• Lynn Cobb, deputy chief of staff for policy. Cobb will earn $121,630, a 4 percent increase from a similar job she held under Speaker Larry Cretul. Cobb retired in 2009 as director of the House Education Council.
• Michelle Davila, deputy chief of staff for administration. Davila will earn $110,205, which is a 16 percent increase from her previous job as director of operations under Cretul.
• Todd Reid, deputy chief of staff for process. Reid, the former director of the House Majority Office, will earn $108,673.
• Kirk Pepper, director of external affairs. Most recently Pepper was the deputy campaign manager for Bill McCollum, who battled Scott in the Republican primary. Pepper will earn $100,299 under Cannon.
• Katie Betta, director of communications. Betta will earn $100,300 in her first job in the Legislature. She previously was communications director at the Republican Party of Florida, where she earned $85,000.
Betta replaces Jill Chamberlin, who earned $105,000 in the same job under Republican Speakers Marco Rubio, Ray Sansom and Cretul. Chamberlin retired this year after more than three decades in state government.
Cannon said it was unfair to compare Chamberlin and Betta. The speaker's office is expected to absorb some of the communications duties previously handled by the majority office.
"Katie is one of the sharpest, hardest-working and talented people I've encountered," Cannon said. "She's worth more than what she's being paid."
Doug Martin, a spokesman for the state workers union, said lawmakers should consider raises for state workers, too.
"There are a lot of hard-working people who serve the state of Florida who are also deserving," Martin said. "We hope the Legislature provides the funding and the flexibility so that other agencies can likewise reward their hard-working employees."
Cannon and Haridopolos both voted to cut worker pay in 2009, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist. After the veto, Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, approved some of the 61 pay raises for Senate staffers.
Under Speaker Cretul, R-Ocala, 44 House staffers received pay increases. Unlike Atwater, though, Cretul demoted and cut the salaries of other staffers so that the bottom-line House payroll fell by about $877,000.
Aside from two secretaries in the speaker's office, the average salary in Cannon's office is $102,400, up from $100,300 under Cretul.
Times/Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report. Michael C. Bender can be reached at email@example.com.