State payroll figures revealed by California State Controller John Chiang show that over 1,400 state employees received more than $200,000 in compensation last year. Over half of these were doctors, dentists, and nurses in California's overcrowded prison system, and they got a major boost to their compensation-- in some cases, doubling it-- by cashing out unused vacation time, sick days, and furlough days.
Nine out of the ten highest-paid state workers made over $500,000 in 2010, and six of the top ten earners were doctors, dentists, or psychiatrists in the California prison system, with one prison doctor collecting $777,423 and a dentist earning $599,403. These employees made even more money than the state's governor, Jerry Brown, whose salary is $173,987. These figures came just as California ended a fiscal year with a $19 billion budget deficit, a stagnant economy, and stubbornly high unemployment.
The unusually high salaries for some of these state employees-- especially in the prison system-- can be attributed to court mandates and furlough programs (ironically conceived to save money) which, along with a chronic shortage in prison staff, allowed employees to accrue overtime hours and payouts for unused vacation time. Simply put, there aren't enough doctors and nurses for them to take vacation days without leaving prisoners in need of medical attention untreated.
State Controller John Chiang created a controversy this week by releasing the salary and compensation figures without the names of the state workers. His spreadsheet includes titles and salaries, but does not disclose each employee's identity. Transparency advocates argued that taxpayers deserve to know exactly where their money is going, and accused Chiang of not wanting to upset state employee unions who have given millions in campaign contributions to him.
To be fair, while that information is not provided with the most recent list of figures on the State Controller's website, it is available from his office and provided upon request. A spokesman for the Controller said that his office simply used an older template that it created last year to publish payroll information from California's counties and cities after salary scandals in Bell. Names were left out of that spreadsheet because that information could not be easily verified by the state.