Governor’s new aide in Miss. to make $80,000

Published 11:09 pm Saturday, January 3, 2009

Gov. Haley Barbour’s new press secretary will get nearly $17,000 more than his predecessor, drawing criticism during a time of budget cuts.

A public records request revealed that Dan Turner will get an $80,000 annual salary, up from $63,200 paid to Pete Smith, The Clarion-Ledger reported Saturday.

Smith is now spokesman for the state Department of Education, making $84,000 a year.

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Turner had been communications director and district representative for U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery of Louisiana, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Barbour, a Republican, recently had to cut about $42 million from Mississippi’s $5 billion budget, and said more cuts are possible if revenues don’t improve. Many agencies are eliminating vacant positions to make the cuts.

State Rep. Cecil Brown, a Democrat from Jackson who oversees a subcommittee handling the governor’s budget requests, said the committee will look into the press secretary’s salary.

The governor’s staff did not return phone calls and e-mail messages Friday, the newspaper said.

“Certainly, we’re going to ask about it,” said state Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, who oversees a subcommittee handling the governor’s budget requests.

“He’s telling everyone to tighten their belts, now he’s doing this with his office,” Brown said. He said state employees and judges are not receiving pay raises.

State Sen. Terry Brown, who oversees the Senate Fees, Salaries and Administration Committee, said sometimes elected officials must pay more to attract experienced staffers.

“I’m for the governor having the best chief of staff they can get,” said Brown, a Republican from Columbus, who said he will not consider any pay raises this year.

David Williams, vice president of policy for the Washington-based watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, said the raise was not going to balance a budget but was representative of government. “Areas they can cut, they don’t,” he said.

In a Dec. 8 news release, Barbour said Turner is a veteran journalist and congressional staff member.

Before working for McCrery, Turner was a reporter at the Ocean Springs Record, The Meridian Star and The Natchez Democrat. Turner, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, also has worked as a political journalist in and outside of the state, including at The Times in Shreveport.

Besides Turner, Barbour has a communications director and a deputy press secretary.

Five other aides make at least $95,000, and chief of staff Paul Hurst gets $140,000 — more than the governor, whose salary is set in law at $122,160.