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The Top 50 Highest Paid State Staffers

Thursday, November 03, 2011

 

Nearly 50 staffers for the five elected executive officers in state government are earning six-figure salaries, according to a GoLocalProv review of new payroll data.

 

When health and retirement benefits are included, at least 131 employees cost six figures or more, out of a total of 403 employees for the offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and General Treasurer. Those at the top include the chief of staffs for the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, both of whom do double duty as the legal counsel for their offices, and, as a result, earn far more than their bosses. (See below chart for the complete breakdown.)

“I don’t think any of them should be making six figures,” said state Rep. Doreen Costa, R-North Kingstown. “That’s ridiculous. … I didn’t realize it was that much.”

When salaries alone are considered, 49 employees are making $100,000 or more a year, including Gov. Lincoln Chafee and the other four elected officials, as of this past July.

“The numbers are outrageous, given that it does not include given that it does not include benefits and it begs the question about the cost of pensions,” said Lisa Blais, a spokesperson and member of the Ocean State Tea Party in Action.

Among the other findings of the payroll review:

 

■ The highest earners: Other than the Lieutenant Governor, the office with highest ratio of six-figure employees to others, was the Governor’s with 6 out of 37 employees meeting the threshold.

■ Big names at the bottom: In general, elected officials, whose salaries are fixed by statute, unlike their employees, make less than their subordinates. Governor Chafee ranks 17th out of the 49 top earners, at $129,210 a year. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin is next in line, with a $115,610-a-year salary. The remaining three elected officials all are earning approximately $108,000, putting them in the bottom third of the list.

■ Pension tab: The cost of payroll is increased significantly by pension and retiree health care payments. For example, retiree benefits for employees of the Attorney General cost $4.2 million—roughly half of the total payroll.

Higher than the private sector?

Some think the salaries are far higher than what they would be in the private sector. “Working for the state government is far more lucrative than what is currently available in the private sector,” Blais said. “The taxpayers would like to see performance reviews on each and every one of these people because it’s clear that our Rhode Island state government is costing far more than necessary. This may be another way of balancing our budget.”

In all, the salaries of the highest 49 earners—not counting their benefits—totaled $5.9 million.

 

Costa said she did not believe anyone working in the Statehouse should earn six figures because those are public service jobs.

“Maybe the salaries are out of balance with similar jobs in the private sector,” said state Rep. Rene Menard, D-Manville. “It’s an area that we possibly should look at because ultimately it’s all the taxpayer’s dollar. Think about it—these people make more than their bosses.”

But not everyone thinks the salaries for executive staffers are too high. “The Governor’s salary and the Lieutenant Governor’s salary are not even a competitive salary in terms of their areas of responsibility,” said Ed Mazze, a professor of business administration at the University of Rhode Island. In the private sector, he added, those salaries would be 50 to 100 percent higher.

Attorneys at the top

The office with the greatest number of six figure earners was the Attorney General, which had 27 employees at that level or higher.

 

Mazze, who sits on the compensation board for companies like Pulse Electronics, Inc., noted that a first-year attorney at a competitive law firm would have a starting salary of $125,000 to $145,000—and those attorneys, he added, spend most of that first year learning. “Whereas in the Attorney General’s office, they’re getting complicated cases on Day One,” Mazze said.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General said the office has more six-figure earners because of their time worked in the office, professional qualifications, and experience. “The staff of the Office includes seasoned veteran criminal and civil attorneys who have dedicated their professional careers to protect and serve the people of the State of Rhode Island,” said spokeswoman Amy Kempe. “These individuals are at the top of the profession.”

Of those making $100,000, all but two—Kempe and the Director of Administration and Finance, Chris Cotta—are attorneys. The median salary for a senior level attorney ranges from $150,000 to $185,000, according to Kempe, who was citing data from salary.com. Only one person in the office was in that range—Gerald Coyne, the Deputy Attorney General.

She noted that the staff logs close to 20,000 hours of overtime work—all of it uncompensated because they are not eligible for overtime pay. Plus, she said the office returns money to taxpayers through various legal actions, including restitution, forfeitures, settlements, reimbursements, fines, and the collection of fees. In 2010, the total amount returned, saved, or generated through these legal actions was $115,954,807, according to Kempe.

The biggest spenders

All the office-holders, except for Chafee and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, increased their budgets over the previous year. The Secretary of State and Lieutenant Governor budgets went up between $150,000 and $200,000—and much of that was due to salaries, not increases in health care or retirement costs. The greatest increase was in the Attorney General’s budget, which is up about $1.6 million from one year ago. (See below chart for full breakdown.)
 

Officials representing those last three offices told GoLocalProv that longevity pay and 3 percent cost of living raises issued in June were factors in the budget increase. In fact, the total budget for the Attorney General’s office should be more than it is, when the 3 percent raises issued in June as well as January are taken into account, according to Kempe. She estimates that salaries should be costing $14,719,580. Instead, salaries are at $14,493,338.

But, even with those two COLAs, some offices still were able to keep their budgets virtually flat. The Governor’s budget is about $38,000 less than Governor Don Carcieri. And, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo increased spending on staff compensation by just $73,000, a difference of less than one percent.

Cost of Lieutenant Governor’s office near $1M

For Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts, the $212,000 increase in staff pay and benefits amounted to a nearly 30 percent increase in her payroll budget. Spokeswoman Maria Tocco said the budget appeared higher than it otherwise might because one employee last year took an extended personal leave of absence.

 

Also, at the end of the 2011 fiscal year, she said the office hired a new Health Policy Director, a position that is federally funded. Overall, about $124,000 of the increase in salary costs is paid for by federal dollars, according to Tocco.

Between July 2010 and July 2011, the total payroll budget for the Lieutenant Governor went from $712,180 to $924,279, prompting renewed calls from fiscal conservatives for the elimination of the office. “I don’t think we have even a need for a Lieutenant Governor,” Costa said. “I wouldn’t mind seeing that office abolished.”

Besides her role as the chair of three state councils on long-term care, small businesses, and emergency management, Roberts has taken on increased responsibilities in health care. Last January, Chafee formed the Rhode Island Healthcare Reform Commission and named Roberts the chair. The commission is tasked with spearheading the implementation of health care reform in Rhode Island and was assigned with more than a dozen areas of responsibility in a five-page executive order.

Rhode Island took another leap forward in health care reform in September with a second executive order that established a health insurance exchange. Tocco said those two executive orders have “expand[ed] the complexity and intensity of the work” in the Lieutenant Governor’s office.

But not all see those new responsibilities as necessarily a good thing. “The bottom line is that I don’t see the value of our tax dollars coming out of that office,” Blais said. “I see that office as creating more bureaucracy and more costs and associated costs in pushing for and endorsing Governor Chafee’s executive order.”

“I think that office is bleeding us dry,” she added.

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