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Nearly 3,600 Pennsylvania state employees make over $100K

| Sunday, May 15, 2011

HARRISBURG — Two dozen state employees in education-related agencies earn $200,000 or more, and they are among nearly 3,600 state employees paid at least $100,000 annually, a Tribune-Review analysis of payroll records from the three branches of Pennsylvania government and various commissions and agencies shows.

Only 2.7 percent of Pennsylvania tax-filers reported incomes of $200,000 or more in 2008, the latest year available, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

"I can't imagine making that kind of money," said Rhonda Rose, 56, of Carrick, who makes $12 an hour working for a private mental health agency. "It's our hard-earned money. They're living off my dime."

The Trib's examination occurs as state lawmakers debate how to cover a $4.2 billion budget deficit.

State Department of Labor and Industry figures show 7.4 percent of working Pennsylvanians made $100,000 or more between 2007 and 2009. In 2009, the latest data available, there were 5.7 million people working in Pennsylvania. The average salary in all sectors that year was $44,436. On the state payroll this year, 3.3 percent of 108,117 employees make $100,000.

The highest-paid state employee, Chancellor John C. Cavanaugh of the university system, makes $327,500, records show.

Cavanaugh, who proposed freezing management salaries this year, won't comment on his pay, said Kenn Marshall, a system spokesman.

"Dr. Cavanaugh's salary has not changed since he was named chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education in July 2008," Marshall said. His salary and those of university presidents in the system are below the national average of $375,442 cited by the Chronicle for Higher Education in its most recent annual survey, Marshall said.

The Trib assembled payroll for the executive, legislative and judicial branches, including state row offices and independent agencies such as the Gaming Control Board, Turnpike Commission and Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. The total payroll is $5.5 billion for 108,117 workers making $5,000 or more per year, a base amount the Trib chose as a starting point because people making less likely work part time.

Those earning $100,000 or more include physicians, elected leaders, judges, investment officers, college professors, corrections supervisors and state police sergeants.

"I personally wouldn't wipe my feet with a Pennsylvania politician," said Steve Anderson, 28, of East Liberty, a yoga teacher and information technology consultant. "They've done so much damage to our state. ... We are in crisis mode.

"While the upper echelons drive Lexuses and SUVs to meetings, saying 'What are we going to do about these people?,' those salaries could be rerouted to the Hill District and Homewood, to areas where economic development is not even considered," Anderson said.

Education a target

To help address the state's budget crisis, Gov. Tom Corbett, whose $177,401 salary ranks him 86th on the list, has proposed slashing university spending by 50 percent.

The Trib's review "demonstrates that state-supported higher education cannot be the only recession-proof industry in Pennsylvania," said Kevin Harley, Corbett's press secretary.

House Republican Policy Chairman Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, who as a legislative leader makes $90,792, said "everybody focuses on the Legislature" when debating salaries. Yet, he said, "when you look at executive and judicial salaries, they not only exceed legislative salaries but also the governor's. Most people would be surprised to see the governor's salary" isn't near the highest across state government.

The second-highest paid state official is James L. Preston, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, or PHEAA, who makes $319,999 a year. Asked whether Preston would comment, spokesman Mike Reiber said: "No, not on this one."

"Recruiting and retaining experienced leaders to guide the agency requires a unique blend of skill, experience and industry knowledge," Reiber said, noting PHEAA guarantees more than $190 billion in student loan assets held by nearly 400 lenders and employs nearly 2,500.

Eric Epstein, co-founder of the reform group Rock the Capital, contends public managers should make a decent living "but they are not entitled to make a killing."

"Public service denotes sacrifice and modest compensation packages," Epstein said. "We want to attract quality public employees, but at what price• Six-figure salaries defeat the premise that we need lucrative pensions and generous health care packages to attract the best and the brightest."

University presidents, professors, administrators and those in the agency overseeing 14 state-owned universities accounted for 1,490, or 42 percent, of the 3,579 state employees reported to be making $100,000 or more. Other agencies and institutions with substantial numbers of people making that or more include the judiciary (591), the Department of Public Welfare (181), and state police (180).

Former Indiana University of Pennsylvania president Tony Atwater made the most money last year: $455,000. Atwater left his position on June 30, six months after no-confidence vote by IUP faculty. Under terms of his severance agreement, he received his full salary for the 2010-11 academic year and a lump-sum payment upon his departure, Marshall said. The university's new president, David J. Werner, makes $253,428 a year. Neither Werner nor Atwater could be reached for comment.

Officials with the state's university system concede that faculty members, whose compensation is set through collective bargaining agreements, are well-paid by industry standards. Most of their salaries rank around the 85th percentile when compared to a survey of universities the Chronicle of Higher Education published in April.

Philadelphia attorney Ken Jarin, chairman of the system's board of governors, said it had the lowest tuition increases of any state system in the country during the past six years — about 3.3 percent a year — and has difficulty recruiting and keeping university presidents. Eleven presidents retired or announced departures since 2005.

"In the world of Harrisburg, those salaries appear high. They are higher than the governor and most people in state government. But in the arena we are competing, those salaries are very, very low," Jarin said.

Different perspectives

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille, the presiding officer in the judicial branch, is the third highest-paid chief justice in the United States at $195,138, according to a January 2011 salary survey by the National Center for State Courts. Yet the Trib analysis found he makes less money this year than 28 other Pennsylvania state government employees.

The Legislature pays its top leaders — Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, and House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney — $124,297. That's less money than 337 legislative staffers make.

The Legislature's top-paid staffer, Edward J. Nolan, makes $191,854. As executive director of the House Appropriations Committee, Nolan is the 28th highest-paid among all state employees. He wouldn't comment on his salary.

"It doesn't really bother me," Sean McCarthy, 40, a Verizon employee from Allison Park, said about state government salaries. "If there's a market for people with those skill sets and we're not going to pay them, we'll get less quality."

Cara Uhrich, 18, of Camp Hill, a sophomore at Millersville University studying to be a teacher, thinks the high salaries in the state university system "are unfair ... because (K-12) teachers everywhere are taking cuts."

But she isn't unsympathetic. "I know there are large responsibilities on their backs, and education has become a whipping boy," Uhrich said.

David Fillman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said he resents the "double standard" that happens when officials claim top-paid state workers need high salaries to compete with private-sector positions, and the same argument is dismissed when unions offer it. AFSCME represents 45,000 state employees who are paid an average salary of $34,000.

Yet Mark Mitchell, 51, a Strip District vendor whose father belonged to a stevedore union, believes the biggest problem with government is public-sector unions.

"Private unions — I'm all for it," said Mitchell. "Anyone on the public dole should not be unionized. I don't begrudge anyone making as much money as he can in the private sector. But in the public sector, it's a bone of contention."

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