$100K club makes state workers look bad

 The 100K club/Rob Tornoe.

The 100K club/Rob Tornoe.

Rob Tornoe checks in with his thoughts about the remuneration levels of state employees.

Here are Rob’s thoughts:

As I scramble to finish my taxes by the April 15th deadline (I’m a cartoonist – it’s in my nature to procrastinate), a recent report about state employee salaries is causing me to pause as I look at the amount of money I’m about to mail to the state.

You see, in tiny Delaware, with a population less than one million, there are over 1,300 state workers who earn more than $100,000 a year, according to a detailed report by the News Journal.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Keep in mind that Delaware’s median household income hovers around $60,000, and per capita income stands at just under $30,000.

Are we really overpaying our state employees? Not most of them. The state has close to 35,000 employees, and most earn just a tad more than their private employee counterparts.

But it’s the entitled salary hoarders throughout all walks of government that create the headlines and brew animosity towards all state workers. Stable jobs, tremendous benefits and annual raises are luxuries most of us in the private sector have seen evaporate.

This don’t help to quell the anger.

Income inequality seen and felt

Think of this as a microcosm of the larger income inequality battle we all face: a handful (well, more than a handful in Delaware’s case) of people who earn a ridiculous amount, and the rest left with the crumbs. And when the Governor, the figurehead of our state government, is just the 88th highest paid worker, something is wrong.

At least we’re not one of the 40 states where a sports coach is the highest-paid state employee.

We can see this effect pretty clearly in our education system. According to the report, of the 1,343 state employees receiving more than $100,000 a year, 630 were education employees.

And we’re not talking about teachers, who are often vilified, bilking the system. It’s Delaware’s inefficient system of districts and their large reliance on overhead that is driving money out of the classroom, where it is most needed.

In fact, if every school district in the state spent as much money on “direct educational services” as the top five, an additional $21.1 million would be made available to teachers and classrooms.

We also don’t talk much about the effect Charter schools have in contributing to the problem.

Take Gregory Meece, the director and superintendent of Newark Charter School: He was paid $153,788 last year, despite running a school with just 1,760 students. That comes to about $87.38 per student, dramatically higher than the rates of other public school superintendents with much larger school districts.

Over-the-top overtime

Overtime is another driver of these enormous salaries. At the Department of Corrections, overtime spending shot up to $18.7 million in 2013, a 40 percent increase since 2009.

It’s mind boggling how inefficient the reliance on overtime spending is, yet state governments toss it out like candy during a parade. And for anyone hired before 2012, overtime pay boosts their pension, so the inefficiency of how we handle employment is costing taxpayers more, in many cases, for 30 to 40 years.

Aside from the practical matter of overtime hours costing taxpayers 50 percent more (not including even more generous perks like night overtime, weekend overtime, holiday overtime, etc.) do we really want cops, correctional workers and other individuals involved in public safety averaging 20 to 30 hours A WEEK in overtime?

So far, Delaware has avoided the problems that some of our neighbors have in terms of overpaid public employees and overburdened taxpayers.

In New Jersey, there are 1,200 state retirees that are paid pensions of more than $100,000. In Philadelphia, overtime spending has increased 20 percent to a whopping $890 million since 2009.

I know I’m going to receive the same outcry that I did the last time I questioned our inefficient and bloated state government. “Why do you hate teachers and cops, Tornoe?” “A bleeding-heart liberal born again as a tea bagger!” “You want no government? Move to Haiti!”

Sigh. State unions have enough puppets on their payroll; they don’t need me or my doodles helping to prop them up. The fact is I value our state government enough to point out we’re on the wrong path, so as taxpayers and stakeholders we can actually do something about it.

After all, didn’t Markell come into office promising to run the state like a private company? I doubt Nextel was as generous with their overtime and exclusive perks as we are.

And for those of you green with envy over your highly-paid public counterparts, you too can be rich. You just have to watch over murderers and convicts 10 hours a day, every day, for the next 30 years. Or run a charter school.


Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe


WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal