Reflections on public employee income
As California citizens troop – or perhaps more accurately, trickle – to the polls today, a prevailing issue confronting both politicians and the public is whether elected and non-elected public officials make too much money.
Locally, that question was highlighted by 1st District Supervisorial candidate Joanne Sanders when she vowed, if elected, to donate to charity 30 percent of her $133,640 salary. Add in health care and retirement benefits, and our county supervisors typically earn more than $200,000 a year. Those retirement benefits amount to 3 percent of top salary for every year earned up to age 60. It’s the most generous retirement package for any county in the state, and only one other county is above the 2 percent per year norm.
Sonoma County’s supervisorial pay is by no means the highest, but it is easily the most money paid to supervisors among counties with comparable populations.
Whether Sanders’ pledge is political grandstanding or sincere policy, we like the direction in which it points, although we don’t think it goes nearly far enough.
There is, on the one hand, a naïve rush, these days, to judge all politicians as money-grubbing parasites feeding at the public trough. Were we to reduce county supervisor service to part-time status – as some insist – and pay only token wages, one likely result would be elimination of the most competent candidates and the tendency for only the affluent to be capable of and willing to run for public office.
And if you think overseeing a $395 million General Fund county budget is a part-time job, then you probably agree with Grover Norquist that government should be reduced to a size that will fit in a bathtub and then drowned. We don’t subscribe to that view.
But there is, simultaneously, clear evidence that compensation for some, if not most, executive-level public officials is unreasonably and unrealistically high given the times we live in. A database from the State Controller’s Office reveals that in 2009, roughly 1,200 public employees in Sonoma County earned more than $100,000 a year. Those salaries included the $110,820 paid to an Adult, Youth and Family Services Section Manager; the $160,596 paid to the Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer; the $110,826 paid to an Alcohol and other Drug Services Section Manager; the $197,274 paid to the Assistant County Administrator; the $192,888 paid to the Deputy Public Health Officer; and the $124,601 paid to the Emergency Services Information Officer.
Those salaries came at a time when, according to the same database, the median pay for a public employee in Sonoma County was $56,085, while Census Bureau data revealed that the media pay for all workers – public and private – was slightly over $30,000.
We’d like to suggest that the next 1st District Sonoma County Supervisor – whomever that will be – make it his or her mission to reduce not only the supervisor’s pay and benefit package, but to also review and adjust compensation for executive public employees so that they are forced to experience the same sacrifices increasingly made by the rank and file.