$700K State Salaries Bust Budget

JUNE 6, 2011

He’s not a Nobel Prize-winning physician. He’s not the founder of a life science company. He’s not even a Hollywood plastic surgeon. Yet he earned an enviable $777,423 last year.

He’s a doctor at High Desert State Prison in Susanville — a California public employee. And he’s one of more than 1,400 state workers that earned more than $200,000 in 2010, according to compensation data posted online yesterday by state Controller John Chiang.

What particularly galls is the way public employees have gamed the compensation system to reap huge windfalls for unused vacation time and sick leave.

Like the prison psychiatrist, exposed by the Los Angeles Times, who received $594,976 for more than 2-½ years’ worth of unused sick days, the High Desert doctor was but one of 309 public employees who received lump sum payments of more than $100,000 last year for unused sick leave and/or vacation days.

Those windfalls are a violation of a state government policy that requires managers of agencies — including the prisons — to cap accrued vacation time and sick leave at 80 days. But the state’s public employees, and their all-too-accommodating supervisors, routinely ignore the policy.


Nancy Kincaid, spokeswoman for J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed receiver overseeing the state’s prison health care, told the Times that the outsized salaries and other compensation the state has paid medical staff was necessary to successfully recruit them.

“These are not easy places to work,” she explained. “The salaries had to be competitive.”

Sure, but $777,423 in salary is far more than competitive. A lump sum payment of $594,976 is much more than necessary to make even the most challenging work place bearable.

The revelation of the sky-high salaries commanded by state prison medical personnel and other lucky public employees would be troubling even in the best of economic times for the Golden State, but it is especially so at a time when the state government has struggled with staggering budget deficits.

Indeed, the state Legislature has passed billions of dollars in spending cuts over the past two years to balance the state budget (at least on paper). Yet, it hasn’t touched the inflated salaries of the more than 1,400 state workers earning more than $200,000 a year.

That just goes to show how firm a grip the public employees unions have on the Legislature and the state’s executive officers. That includes Chiang himself, a recipient of millions in campaign contributions from the unions. He put put the salary info on his web site, but excluded the names attached to the salaries, even though they are public record.

Code of Silence

It also reveals the unspoken code under which the state’s public employee unions operate that makes it verboten for one union to publicly criticize the salary and benefits received by the members of another — no matter how outrageous.

That’s why, for instance, the California Teachers Association has been silent on the inflated salaries received by state prison medical personnel — who account for more than half of the more than 1,400 overpaid state workers — even though reducing those salaries might have meant fewer layoffs of rank-and-file teachers.

The publication of public employee salaries reveals that the state government continues to pay far more for labor than it can afford. Until the Legislature finally musters the political will to address itself to that issue, the state has little hope of ever overcoming its structural budget deficits.

— Joseph Perkins





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