BOISE - Idaho’s new transportation director is being paid $22,000 a year more than fired Director Pam Lowe because the department negotiated a salary that’s designed to be a substantial increase from Brian Ness’ current salary in Michigan, the department said Friday.
ITD initially reported Thursday that Ness would be paid $160,000 a year, but corrected that on Friday to $165,000. His salary as a Michigan transportation official was $118,000, according to ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten, but Ness also faces higher costs in Idaho, from a 15 percent increase in cost of living to higher costs for dental and life insurance and state retirement plan contributions.
Once those costs were calculated in, the $165,000 salary represents a 10 percent increase in Ness’ spending power, Stratten said.
Lowe, who is contesting her firing with a lawsuit that alleges sex discrimination and political pressure, made $143,000 a year, a salary that had risen steadily during her 15-year career at the department, in which she held several different positions. “Salary of the department’s director is negotiable,” Stratten said. “Pam received promotional increases as her responsibility within the organization grew.”
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, a civil engineer and vice-chairman of the Idaho House Transportation Committee, said, “It’s a difficult job market right now, and so when companies are cutting back and people are thankful to be hanging onto their jobs, I guess I’d like to see some justification as to why they needed to raise the pay so much.”
But he added, “I hope it’s a long-term appointment. I hope he does well in the job, and I hope we get to serve with the new director over several legislative sessions.”