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Salary Increases in the News


There were salary increases in the news recently when (and other media) reported that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to raise salaries for top state administrators. Why were these salary increases in the news so often?  Because California is expected to experience a shortfall of more than $726 million in its 2007-08 budget, some claim there is no justification for the special salary increases. The Governor insists the pay raises are necessary to stay competitive with the private sector, as well as state and local agencies’ salaries.

According to the, the Governor’s justification for the special salary increases was based upon a salary survey conducted by a state government agency. Subsequently, cabinet secretaries will receive up to a 22.7% pay raise and department directors will see their salaries increase up to 12.2%. The largest pay raise will go to the director of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Ruben Grijalva. His salary will jump from $133,732 to $169,500, about a 27% pay increase. Is this an average salary increase or outrageous pork spending?

How would your salary look with a 27% increase? Crunch the numbers with our salary survey.

Criteria Used to Determine Pay Raises

The Los Angeles-based Daily News reported that the criteria used to determine pay raises (by the Governor) was a salary survey conducted by the Department of Personnel Administration. The salary survey concluded that there was a disparity between salaries for state officials and those on the local government level.

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Government Salary Survey

The department’s salary survey cited California Highway Patrol Commissioner Mike Brown, who oversees more than 10,000 employees and earns an annual salary of $142,584; that’s close to 36% below the salary of the average police chief or sheriff in major California cities. For example, he is out earned by a San Jose police chief who supervises 1,789 workers and earns a salary of $207,418. Ten other county sheriffs and city police chiefs also earn more than Brown.

When the salary survey compared health services directors, it found that Kim Roberts, the head of the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System, earns a salary of $285,744. She oversees a 6,000-employee, $1.5 billion system. In contrast, the state health and human services secretary, Kim Belshe, who oversees 33,000 staffers statewide and a $74 billion budget, will soon earn $175,000.

Paying the ones who do, or the ones who lead?

J.J. Jelincic, president of the California State Employees Association (representing about 140,000 state workers), was quoted as saying, “I’m glad the Governor recognizes the value of public service. It’s a shame he doesn’t recognize the value of the people who actually do the work.”

According to Tim Behrens, president of the Association of California State Supervisors, salaries are not rising as fast at the lower levels in the government: 25,000 managers and supervisors received a 3.5% pay raise earlier this year, their first in six years.

Is a job only about the pay?

In defense of the pay raises, Aaron McLear, a spokesperson for the Governor’s office, said, “For the state to deliver these essential services for Californians, it has to pay competitive salaries. Right now, that’s not happening.” Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman (R-Irvine) concurred, “”If you want to get good people in there, you need to pay them commensurately with what they can get on the outside.”

This is not strictly true. An employee values a particular job not just by how much it pays. While I do not know about the motivation of a state health and human services secretary – shouldn’t “public service” be part of the motivation? – I do know something about the motivations of software developers.

I met many software developers at Microsoft who chose to work for the company, not for the high pay, but because the projects gave them a chance to have “an impact on the world.” It is pretty cool to know 100 million people will use the code you write. The developers could have made more money working on obscure projects at other companies, or even within Microsoft, but they took the pay cut to have an impact.

I would think the health and human services secretary of California would have a chance to have an impact, more so than the administrator of a hospital would. Doesn’t that count for something?

Perhaps the Governator should try his hand at our salary calculator.


Dr. Al Lee

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