It's trendy among some Republican governors to crack down on labor unions and public employees. Just look at Maine's removal of a mural depicting that state's labor movement from the lobby of its labor department. But most of the attacks seem to focus on teachers, sanitation workers, and unions. Meanwhile, a report released in California today shows that state has several public employees, including hospital CEOs and city administrators, who have made more than $1 million per year.
The report, by the California State Controller's Office, shows that highest-paid public employee in the state is Michael Covert, chief executive of the Palomar Pomerado Hospital District in San Diego County, who made $1,035,709 in 2009. According to the Los Angeles Times, that's less than some city administrators have made in recent years:
The salary survey comes after public outrage over the high compensation of some city officials, including former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo, who was set to earn more than $1.5 million in 2010. The Times also found that Vernon's onetime city administrator, Eric T. Fresch, earned $1.65 million in 2008.
Public hospitals have gone to bat for their administrators, who they say put in tremendous working hours and shoulder enormous responsibility, and for whose talent they must compete with the private sector.
"You've got to look at what the market demands," said Jim Lott, executive vice president of the Hospital Assn. of Southern California. "This is not your typical government job; a hospital CEO in the public sector is extremely sought after."
But such arguments may fall on deaf ears as politicians in Sacramento, as in so many other state capitals around the country, struggle to balance a perilously slim budget. But will the deficit hawks that have generated national debate about overpaid teachers lay into California's millionaire managers the same way? Most of the legal attacks on state workers have come from governments against unions, and since the employees identified in California's report are managers, they won't be affected by public bargaining laws.
The national conversation so far really got started when Wisconsin public employees occupied the state capital in February to protest a law that would strip them of collective bargaining rights. Then Michigan's government declared "financial martial law" in order to break contracts with public employee unions. Meanwhile, Indiana democrats who fled the state six weeks ago to block votes on anti-union bills have finally returned.
With only so much money to go around, state governments are going to have to make some very tough decisions regarding salaries large and small. If only more state employees were like former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and could afford to volunteer for their jobs.