Go West Young Man, To The "New Normal" Dream Job: California State Workers Earning $822,000

Tyler Durden's picture

There was a time when working on Wall Street, either on the sell or buy side,  was the dream of every able-bodied worker who could do simple addition in their head and wasn't afraid to cut the occasional corner in exchange for a bottle of Bollinger and a sizable year end bonus. That, however, was so 2006 and with the long overdue conversion of the banking sector into a utility the stratospheric compensation payments from the peak of the credit bubble are long gone. So what is the New Normal dream job? Become a California state worker, preferably one who deals with neurotic and/or crazy people (i.e., a psychiatrist), and rake it in. The following chart from Bloomberg shows just how generous the otherwise insolvent state of California is when it comes to paying its public servants, and the 100%+ increase in California employee state pay since 2005. Needless to say, this is a rate of increase in compensation that 99% of workers in the private sector would die for.

Some other stunning observations from Bloomberg on the best job taxpayer money can buy. The best paid job: psychiatrist. At this pace, they will have lots and lots of patients.

Psychiatrists were among the highest-paid employees in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and New Jersey, with total compensation $270,000 to $327,000 for top earners. State police officers in Pennsylvania collected checks as big as $190,000 for unused vacation and personal leave as they retired young enough to start second careers, while Virginia paid active officers as much as $109,000 in overtime alone, the data show.

 

The numbers are even larger in California, where a state psychiatrist was paid $822,000, a highway patrol officer collected $484,000 in pay and pension benefits and 17 employees got checks of more than $200,000 for unused vacation and leave. The best-paid staff in other states earned far less for the same work, according to the data.

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Mohammad Safi, graduate of a medical school in Afghanistan, collected $822,302 last year, up from $90,682 when he started in 2006, the data show. Safi was placed on administrative leave in July and is under investigation by the Department of State Hospitals, formerly the Department of Mental Health.

Another perk of public workers in Cali? $200,000 in accrued vacation pay:

The disparity with other states is also evident in payments for accumulated vacation time when employees leave public service. No other state covered by the data compiled by Bloomberg paid a worker more than $200,000 for accrued leave last year, while 17 people got such payments in California. There were 240 employees who received at least $100,000 in California, compared with 42 in the other 11 states, the data show. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie calls such payments “boat checks” because they can be large enough to buy a yacht.

 

Topping the list was $608,821 paid to psychiatrist Gertrudis Agcaoili, 79, who retired last year from the Napa state mental hospital after a 30-year career. Agcaoili said in a telephone interview that it was her right to take the payment.

Can California afford to pay those wages? Of course not:

Across the U.S., such compensation policies have contributed to state budget shortfalls of $500 billion in the past four years and prompted some governors, including Republican Scott Walker of Wisconsin, to strip most government employees of collective-bargaining rights and take other steps to limit payroll spending.

 

In California, Governor Jerry Brown hasn’t curbed overtime expenses that lead the 12 largest states or limited payments for accumulated vacation time that allowed one employee to collect $609,000 at retirement in 2011. The 74-year-old Democrat has continued requiring workers to take an unpaid day off each month, which could burden the state with new costs in the future.

 

Last year, Brown waived a cap on accrued leave for prison guards while granting them additional paid days off. California’s liability for the unused leave of its state workers has more than doubled in eight years, to $3.9 billion in 2011, from $1.4 billion in 2003, according to the state’s annual financial reports.

Some are furious. What is shocking is that nobody else is:

“It’s outrageous what public employees in California receive in compensation and benefits,” said Lanny Ebenstein, who heads the California Center for Public Policy, a Santa Barbara-based research institution critical of public payrolls.

 

“Until public employee compensation and benefits are brought in line, there will be no answer to the fiscal shortfalls that California governments at every level face,” he said.

 

Among the largest states, almost every category of worker has participated in the pay bonanza. Britt Harris, chief investment officer at the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, last year collected $1 million -- including his $480,000 salary and two years of bonuses -- more than four times what Republican Governor Rick Perry received. Pension managers in Ohio and Virginia made up to $678,000 and $660,000, respectively, according to the data, which Bloomberg obtained using public- record requests. In an interview, Harris said public pension pay must be competitive with the private sector to attract top investment talent.

It seems magic money trees don't grow even in Cali, because more money paid out here, means less money availabl there. There being investing in the all important future via education

The result isn’t only a heavier burden on California taxpayers. As higher expenses competed for fewer dollars, per- pupil funding of the state’s public schools dropped to 35th nationally in 2009-2010 from 22nd in 2001-2002. Californians have endured recurring budget deficits throughout the past decade and now face the country’s highest debt and Standard & Poor’s lowest credit rating for a U.S. state.

And so on.

Is this ridiculous compensation arrangement sustainable? Of course not. But just like everything else in the New Normal economy, by the time it crushes, it will be someone else's problem. And it is not like anyone expects that the 120% debt/GDP which the US will so proudly be boasting in 2016 will ever be repaid: one can at best hope it will continue to be rolled, until one day, it can't when future generations, saddled with the benefits of current and prior greed, realize they have had enough.