Friday, May 18, 2007

Governor's staff wages up despite budget cuts

Governor's staff wages up despite budget cuts

Friday, May 18, 2007

(05-18) 04:00 PDT Sacramento -- As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faces a budget deficit and asks for deep cuts in public transit and social service programs, records show the payroll of his own office has been among the fastest growing in state government -- led by a big jump in staff members earning more than $100,000.

Salaries and other payments to the governor's 260 staff members cost taxpayers $16.9 million last year, up 12 percent from 2005. This year, pay for those staff members will increase at least another $500,000, but plans are in the works to boost salaries even higher.

The growth rate of the governor's payroll is well ahead of the state government average of 8 percent in 2006 and ranks 11th among the state's 83 largest agencies, according to a Chronicle analysis of data provided by the state controller's office that does not include the Legislature or the University of California.

The source of the escalation is the growth in the number of staff members, including more highly paid aides.

As of January, the governor's staff numbered 268, including those working in his Capitol suite as well as the governor's Office of Planning and Research. That's up from 236 in January 2005.

The number of highly paid workers also has increased: Two years ago, 20 staff members earned $100,000 or more, costing taxpayers $2.3 million.

Payroll records from January showed that last year 41 staffers received a salary of $100,000 or more, which works out to nearly $5 million.

The highest-paid employee is the governor's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, whose salary is $142,572.

A spokesman for the governor's office defended the payroll as appropriate, but some critics said Schwarzenegger seemed to be asking residents to accept budget cuts that he's not willing to impose on his own staff.

"This is such a mixed message that it is breathtaking," said Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa. "He's cutting benefits to the state's most vulnerable people at the same time he's increasing the salaries of people who are already highly paid.

"I've never objected to paying people what they are worth -- but that's not the point," she said. "He's asking everyone else to tighten their belts while throwing around money on his own administration. It's very frustrating."

With the state facing a shortfall in 2007-2008 of at least $1.6 billion, Schwarzenegger proposed this week to cut $1.3 billion in support for public transit as well as $660 million in cuts to health and social services for the poor.

Aaron McLear, the governor's press secretary, said that while payroll might have gone up in recent years, the overall budget of the governor's office has increased by only 8 percent since 2005 because increases in payroll have been offset by cuts in other spending.

"Our salaries are one component of the overall budget, which has remained largely the same the last few years," he said.

He said Schwarzenegger has always been an advocate of raising public service salaries to attract "the best and brightest to ensure the efficient delivery of services to Californians."

For comparison, Kennedy's salary is less than that paid to the top aide to New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Richard Baum, who earns $178,500.

The earnings of Schwarzenegger's top staff have been a source of controversy since his political campaign disclosed late last year that it had paid a number of aides hundreds of thousands of dollars in addition to their state salaries for work performed on the governor's re-election campaign.

Kennedy, for instance, earned almost $200,000 working for the political campaign while also getting paid during some of that time by the state.

Payroll records show Kennedy earned $121,506 last year, losing about a month's pay on her salary of $131,412 when she temporarily left state service.

Three other top aides also were paid by the re-election campaign. Adam Mendelsohn, communications director, received $87,660 in campaign earnings on top of state earnings last year of $107,378. Senior adviser Daniel Zingale earned $50,000 from the campaign in addition to state earnings of $123,252. And Clay Russell, the governor's personal assistant, was paid $72,000 in campaign money along with state earnings of $87,702.

The governor's political managers defended the payments, saying each of the staff members contributed many hours on weekends and before state work shifts began.

Now all of the governor's staff is in line for a big pay increase thanks to changes in state law approved last year by the Legislature.

Two months ago, the governor acted on the authority he was given in an effort to make state service more attractive to potential candidates.

Nine agency secretaries, who are members of the governor's Cabinet, got a raise from $142,582 to $175,000.

Thirty-nine department heads, whose pay varies, got raises that ranged between 7 percent and 27 percent.

The law also gave the governor authority to increase the salaries of his staff in relation to what the department managers are now earning. That means Kennedy could be given a salary matching the highest-paid agency secretary -- James Tilton, the state prisons chief, who earns $225,000.


Governor's staff payroll grows

Of the 83 state departments with more than 100 employees, the governor's office had the 10th highest rate of growth in payroll from 2005 to 2006.

Payroll for governor's office:

2005: $15.06 million

2006: $16.86 million, an increase of 12%

Number of people on governor's staff earning over $100,000:

2005: 20

2006: 32

2007 (to date): 41

The total payroll for state agencies, excluding colleges and universities, increased 8 percent from 2005 to 2006.

Source: Chronicle analysis of state payroll records

The Chronicle

E-mail Tom Chorneau at tchorneau@sfchronicle.com.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/05/18/MNGR2PTFPD1.DTL

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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