Gary Alexander’s Long Commute and Rhode Island’s Big Compensation

Rhode Island resident and former human services chief Gary Alexander has been making news back home related to his current job as Secretary of Public Welfare in Pennsylvania.

About two weeks ago, Alexander’s work came up on the Current and Anchor Rising regarding a chart suggesting that a single-mother in the PA public welfare system is better off not making more than $29,000 in gross income unless she can leap above $69,000, because her public assistance payments drops so much.

This week, Alexander caught the attention of Rhode Island Public Radio reporter Ian Donnis after the Pennsylvania Independent published a story about his use of a state vehicle to travel to and from his family’s home in Rhode Island:

Alexander spent more than $4,700 in state expenses the calendar year 2011, according to state records. Purchases were made at gas stations in Harrisburg, throughout Pennsylvania and in Rhode Island.

During a 52-week period, Alexander made 29 trips from Rhode Island directly to Harrisburg, and 14 trips from Harrisburg directly to Rhode Island. Those trips are around 350 miles each way, taking about six hours.

An additional 44 trips cited Rhode Island as a point of departure or final destination with a stop along the way, like Philadelphia.

In emails, yesterday and today, Alexander told the Ocean State Current that the initial news reports failed to mention that his department operated at “a $140 million surplus, last year,” or that he negotiated vehicle use as an employment benefit, for which he pays $11,000 in federal taxes, as reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer today.  “The administration gave me permission to use the vehicle, and I was upfront before I took the job that I needed to be home every week for my family,” Alexander told the Current. “I wouldn’t have taken the job otherwise.”

The Inquirer puts the story in the context of Alexander’s vocal presence among state officials who oppose aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is popularly known as ObamaCare, including the Medicaid expansion to cover able-bodied childless adults for the first time.

Today, GoLocalProv editor Dan McGowan put Alexander in the “Who’s Not [Hot]” section of his “Side of the Rhode” column, saying that government officials “can’t get away with” such activity during “a time when people around the country are so concerned with debt.” Whether debt is a concern to Rhode Islanders may not be so clear, however.  Ocean State voters overwhelmingly approved every debt opportunity on the ballot, in November, committing taxpayers to borrow $208,164,000 at an additional anticipated financing cost of $99,407,716.

The PA Independent reports Alexander’s earnings at $146,579, which compares with the $141,828 that Rhode Island pays to its own Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Steven Costantino.  Alexander says his role is more like Costantino’s than that of RI Director of the Department of Human Services Director Sandra Powell, who makes $129,627 per year.  But he notes that Powell’s position represents an additional layer of management that Pennsylvania doesn’t have.

Pennsylvania’s population is approximately twelve times the size of Rhode Island’s, and the people are spread over a land area that is more than forty times larger.

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