Did Palin’s Pay As Wasilla Mayor Really Get Cut?

As reported on the TPM Election Central website in an article by Greg Sargent on September 18, 2008, despite Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s claims to have taken a pay cut during her tenure as Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, she actually received a $4,000 annual pay increase.

One thing Sarah Palin cites as proof of her reform credentials is a pay cut she says she took when she became Mayor of Wasilla in 1996.

“As mayor I took a voluntary pay cut, which didn’t thrill my husband; and then as governor I cut the personal chef position from the budget, and that didn’t thrill my hungry kids,” Palin said recently, repeating a frequent refrain.

But did she really get an overall pay cut as mayor? The record suggests a more complex story.

While Palin did appear to get a pay cut ordinance passed upon entering, several years later her salary had actually gone up to the point where it ended up thousands of dollars higher than it was just before she took office, local press reports at the time show.

Two reports in the local Alaska press in 1999, three years after she became Mayor, say explicitly that her salary at that time was $68,000, higher than the $64,000 it was just before she took over as mayor. The pay hikes were apparently due to mandated salary increases that the City Council refused to overrule, though that’s not certain.

The McCain campaign was unable to explain why her salary had gone up and how that squared with her claim of taking a cut.

Asked for proof of her claim that she took a pay cut, the McCain campaign provided us with minutes from a Wasilla City Council meeting from November 13, 1996, which appear to show that Palin introduced and passed some sort of measure to reduce her salary by 10 percent.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Three years later, on March 12, 1999, an article ran in The Frontiersman which explicitly reported that Palin’s salary was higher at that time than it was when she took over. The article describes a City Council vote where the Council, in the words of the paper, “decided to leave the mayor’s salary at $68,000.” It was $64,000 when Palin took over, according to the paper.

An article in the same paper a week earlier shows Palin herself discussing the fact that she’d accepted the increase, albeit against her will:

The mayor’s wage was increased from $64,000 to $68,000 in 1996, just before Sarah Palin was elected.

“I voted against it when I was a council member and I felt like a hypocrite when I came in and had to accept it,” Palin said.

“Two and a half months after I was elected, the new resolution kicked in, but I took a pay cut down to $61,200. Then I had to accept the $68,000 since the last fiscal year started.”

So what appears to have happened is this: As a Council member she voted against hiking the mayor’s salary from $64,000 to $68,000, but it passed anyway. When she came in as mayor, she passed the ordinance which brought her salary down to $61,200. But that may not actually have taken effect, and Council-mandated raises brought her actual salary up to $68,000.

The McCain campaign was unable to explain whether her salary actually was cut. And the McCain campaign declined to comment on the fact that her salary had actually ended up higher than it was when she first took office, beyond referring us back to the original minutes of the initial meeting where the first ordinance was passed.

Did Palin’s Pay As Wasilla Mayor Really Get Cut?

Senator John McCain & Governor Sarah Palin

Senator John McCain & Governor Sarah Palin


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