Who’s allowed to be greedy?
While progressives rail against CEOs' seven-, eight- and nine-figure pay packages, Republicans reliably attack unions and the far more meager salaries of public sector workers. Public vs. private sector pay is a charged and unresolved partisan issue, but a few state employees who abuse the system or get lucky can be a more potent talking point for conservatives than more fundamental problems in how states take in and spend money.
While workers in Michigan fight to maintain union protections, Bloomberg has a scathing piece that illustrates how public sector unions in California are draining state coffers. While the piece, the first of a six-part series on state payrolls (Drool!), could provide plenty of fodder to Tea Party types, the takeaway is more complex than the usual left-right tug-of-war:
Payroll data compiled by Bloomberg on 1.4 million public employees in the 12 most populous states show that California has set a pattern of lax management, inefficient operations and out-of-control costs. From coast to coast, states are cutting funding for schools, public safety and the poor as they struggle with fallout left by politicians who made pay-and-pension promises that taxpayers couldn’t afford.
The story homes in on state psychiatrists:
Mohammad Safi, graduate of a medical school in Afghanistan, collected $822,302 last year, up from $90,682 when he started in 2006, the data show. …
Last year, 16 psychiatrists on California’s payroll, including Safi, made more than $400,000. Only one did in any other state in the data compiled by Bloomberg, a doctor in Texas. Safi earned more than twice as much as any state psychiatrist elsewhere, the data show.
Now, my father is a psychiatrist and so is my sister. I generally wish the profession good fortune. But to put Safi’s pay into perspective, a Manhattan shrink who sees 40 patients a week 52 weeks a year at $300 per session would gross $624,000.
Safi and other well-paid psychiatrists, however, don’t represent California public workers as a whole. According to Bloomberg, the average pay of a California state worker was $60,317 in 2011, the highest out of the 12 most populous states. Next came New York at $55,650. Georgia paid state employees an average of $28,682.
And the highest-paid state employees? They’re frequently football and basketball coaches, earning several times the pay of governors and university presidents.