Higher Education dominates Oklahoma’s high-end public salaries

A large number of state workers in Higher Education and other fields make more than the governor, an examination of public employee salaries in Oklahoma reveals. One leading advocate of limited government is sharply critical of the pay scales.

Gov. Mary Fallin is paid $147,000 a year, plus a benefits package. In Fiscal Year 2010, the most recent year for which comprehensive data are available, a total of 877 state employees were compensated that amount or more, in some cases much more.

All but 52 of those employees are in the Higher Education system. Described conversely, 825 employees in Higher Education earn more than the state’s chief executive.

Expanding the examination to salaries of $100,000 or more yields a total of 2,605 people in Oklahoma state government who are paid salaries of $100,000 and up.

Of the 2,605 people being paid more than $100,000 a year, only 519 are not in the higher education system. There are 2,086 “Higher Ed” employees earning more than $100,000 in annual salaries.

Many of those in Higher Education earning high-end salaries are medical doctors at the Health Science Center in Oklahoma City. Others include coaches and prominent tenured professors.

Outside of Higher Education, many of the highest paid state employees run major state agencies and report to boards or commissions who set their compensation within ranges set by the Legislature.

CapitolBeatOK is studying public employee compensation, pensions and other fiscal issues using publicly available data which has been compiled into a data base called AccountAbilityOK.com, a project of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA).

 In an interview with CapitolBeatOK, Stuart A. Jolly of Americans for Prosperity commented on the high-end public employee salaries:

“I’ve got three words for you – out of control!  This data reminds me of another episode of ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,’ except that this time it’s on the taxpayer’s dime. Oklahomans are already suffering, and considering the average annual income for Oklahoma families is just $42,000. I have a feeling this isn’t going to sit well with them.

“Education spending in Oklahoma already consumes more than half of Oklahoma’s entire annual budget – and finding out that 2,605 state employees make more than $100,000 isn’t going to win them any favors in next year’s legislative session.”

Higher Education received 17.26 percent of legislative appropriations for Fiscal Year 2011. Common education garnered 40.59 percent. In combination with state CareerTech spending, public education garners around six out of every ten appropriated dollars in the Sooner State. 

Jolly, Oklahoma state director for AFP, continued, “Don’t get me wrong. Americans for Prosperity believes in free enterprise, and doesn’t want to stop anyone from earning a great salary.  But, people paid by the taxpayers have a public trust and abuses must be avoided.

“The criticism of these salaries is not an attack on Higher Ed or intellectualism as some have proposed. And Oklahoma also isn’t in competition with other states for talent as some have gone on to suggest. In most cases, these high salaries are the outright fleecing of our tax dollars.

“Teaching in Higher Education is and should be a noble and worthy cause, but their responsibility in most cases will never equal that of the Governor or Lieutenant Governor, which in my opinion should be the basis for state employee pay.”

Americans for Prosperity is a national activist organization that works for limited government and free markets.

Jolly continued, “Those responsible for setting these salaries should consider who is paying for them – taxpayers and parents of those college students.  It’s a crying shame that more Oklahoma families can’t send their kids to state-funded schools without taking out huge loans or sacrificing their retirement to pay for it. Imagine how many kids from Oklahoma would attend one of our great state-supported institutions if 2,086 of them didn’t make over $100,000?

“The bulging salaries and days of ‘champagne wishes and caviar dreams’ must end.”

When OCPA announced the launch of AccountAbilityOK.com in June, the organization described the new project as “the state’s most user friendly and interactive government transparency website.”

Journalists and interested citizens can use the website, OCPA says, “to search state government spending, state employee salaries and pensions, sources of state revenue, and to find out who benefits from tax credits.”

Jonathan Small, OCPA fiscal policy director, reflects, “AccountAbilityOK.com evens the playing field for citizens and allows them access to spending data, which is a powerful tool to hold government accountable.

“While other transparency websites offer some information, no site offers as quick and user friendly an experience as AccountabilityOK.com. We strongly encourage citizens to begin their own investigation, and they can see firsthand bloated pension payments, exorbitant travel expenditures, ridiculous salaries and perpetual growth in government spending.”

 In 2006, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Muskogee, Oklahoma’s junior member in the U.S. Senate, and OCPA began to advocate creation of a government transparency website. The Legislature a year later supported the concept. The Office of State Finance’s “Open Books”  is the result.

Michael Carnuccio, president of the think tank advocating free enterprise, limited government and individual initiative, asserts, “While Oklahoma Open Books was a great first step, AccountAbilityOK.com makes it easy for Oklahomans to search data organized in a way that is simple to understand so they have the information to hold government accountable.

“Our goal is freedom, and the best way to advance freedom is to empower citizens with knowledge about government activities.”