This Is Me--2024 A to Z Theme

My A to Z Themes in the past have covered a range of topics and for 2024 the theme is a personal retrospective that I call "I Coulda Been" which is in reference to my job and career arc over my lifetime. I'll be looking at all sorts of occupations that I have done or could have done. Maybe you've done some of these too!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Should we cap the pay of government-paid employees?

            Recently in the Los Angeles news, there has been an ongoing investigation of the small city of Bell, California--a city of less than 40,000, most who are in lower income families.  The city manager of Bell, one of L.A.county's poorest cities, is being paid nearly $800,000 per year--far greater that city managers in surrounding cities that are far larger than Bell.   The sheriff of Bell is paid in excess of $400,000 and city council members, who work only part-time, receive over $100,000 per year--an amount which the city council itself established for its members.  Do I smell something rotten here?

           Before I continue, I want to get a couple of points out of the way.  My topic today is not in reference to pay in the private sector.  I think there are some real ethical issues about the disparity of wages, but I don't want to address these issues today.  Likewise, let's forget the argument that government workers can make more in the private sector.  Let them go there if they can do better.  The point is:  Where does the money come from to pay government employees?  And the obvious answer to that is taxes and other government imposed fees.

           Another point I would like to clear up so as not to offend any of my beloved readers who are government employees, what I will be proposing would be unlikely to affect any of you.  If it does, or if you can help me understand where I am wrong, then I'll leave it to you to honorably defend your position and set me straight. 

           Here is my proposal in debate question format:

Should we limit the pay of all government-paid employees to $150,000?

            I would not be proposing any decrease in benefits as far as health insurance or any other allowances that seem appropriate.   Some of the perks might need to be addressed and taken away from some.  Over all though, I'm suggesting that the governments--city, county, state, and federal--continue to operate business as usual, but with some adjustments made for what I see as overpaid government workers.  I don't think anyone who reads this makes anywhere near $150,000, so would a salary cap at this figure affect you adversely?  If you do make more than this, or know someone who does, please tell us why you, or they do.

           According to some of the figures that I found, in the United States the median personal income is somewhere around $25,000.  Granted, this includes low wage teens and part-timers.  However, the median househould income--that is the combined incomes of everyone living under one roof--is around $50,000.  Anyone who is making over $100,000 is in the top 6% of workers in the U.S. says a Census Bureau report.  I'm really not sure why elected officials need to fit into this category when you consider that many of them have to be somewhat financially well off in the first place.

            Taking the extreme, the president of the United States receives $400,000 per year not to mention expense accounts and other residual benefits.   How many recent presidents have gone into office as poor men?  What is the earning potential of a president once out of office?  Then to a lesser degree you have the other government officials with high pay when compared to most of us and far more potential perks and benefits.  The American people have been paying our government good money to frequently screw us over.

           This is not a rant on our government and the job they are or are not doing, I am merely questioning pay.  Please enlighten me if I am way off base here.  Or toss out what you know to support my arguments.  I could go on at greater length with additional points and arguments, but I'm trying to shorten my posts.  So I leave it up to you.


  1. A cap of $150 000 seems more than reasonable, or perhaps 150% of the average income of their jurisdiction.

  2. Definitely limit the pay, time in office, and number of terms you must serve before you collect a pension from that office. The cities, states and country would be out of debt in about two years.

  3. I think you raise a valid issue. Scary when a city manager makes more than the President.

    Yes, limit their pay, limit terms and make it a Federal Amendment no elected official be allowed to enact their own pay increase.

    Limiting terms is equally important because it forces the issue of doing what they were elected to achieve.

    Good post, Lee

  4. As a non American I don't think I have a right to answer, but I am in full agreement in pay limit albiet here in the UK or anywhere else.


  5. I'm all for it! So many states are cutting their employee's pay, but not that of the government officials who helped create the money problem in the first place. They should not be allowed to determine their own wages, either.

  6. Term limits are as important as putting a roof on pay. For local jobs, try to keep them as part time as possible and maybe we would get more people who are primarily interested in helping the community instead of using it as a stepping stone to political advancement. The mayor of our small town is part time and donates his tiny salary to a different non-profit every year.

  7. ah, this is exactly why being a government employee was always a dream job for most people all around the world, not just in USA.
    Here in my country only a position in some official government institution can bring you financial safety and all the legal rights of a working person. That's why nepotism and corruption are the biggest problems in this field.

  8. LEE ~
    At my F-FFF blog, where we were discussing the TSA's full body scanning of airline passengers, I have posted an apology that I truly feel I owe you.

    Whenever you find the time, would you mind, please, visiting there and reading it? Thanks, Brother!

    ~ "Lonesome (And Apologetic) Dogg" McMe

  9. I am in favor of a cap for all government employees. I think 150K is to high, but if we start somewhere it is better than what you share with us - no city manager is worth 800,000 nor is an elected sherriff worth 400,000.

    Yes, let those who can and want to do better finacially leave government and go to the private sector. Hopefully that will open a government job for me that I would be willing to for 50K a year. I don't think the presidencey is worth 200k a year. The position should be without pay + resonable and limited expenses for necessary travel and entertainment.

    If a man has ideals and wants to serve his country, let him do without compensation for four years.

    How bette off would we really be in congress was partime, and met every two years to consider the state of the country and was only paid while in a times session?

    Let's pay congressman what soldiers are paid for dying. No, I don't think we would have less quality senators, I think we would have better senators - men who would serve without the desire for wealth, power, trappings and trimmings, pomp and circumstance.

    What happened to men like Davey Crockett who served congress, Abraham Lincoln and others who served for reasons of duty, God, and country?

    I don't think anyone serves today for those reasons - we are served with people who have agendas, people who are supported by agencies with agendas.

    Government is too big and expensive in too many ways when it attempts to interfere with the rights of states or individuals.

  10. Absolutely! $400,000? Makes me sick. Thanks for the info. I had no idea there was this much money outside of Washington. For shame, for shame...

  11. I agree that even $150,000 is high, but certainly not as high as what some salaries are already, especially when you tie in perks, expense allowances, benefits, and pensions. Not many should be entitled to go as high as $150,000.

    Isn't anyone going to step forward to defend government paid salaries? Is there any reasonable defense?

  12. Lee,

    I bet you just knew you would get a rise out of me. First off, I have to say that 800K for a city manager is way out of line. But I also assume that this figure also includes not just salary, but health benefits, travel perhaps other things? Nonetheless, it is quite high for a small town. I don’t know how or if that can be justified. So, yes, I do agree with you there.

    What does get my rise is the question of "Should we cap the pay of **government** employees?+

    And true to the take of the general public, all they think about are the outliers. These tend to be officials, not rank and file govt. employees. Rank and file employees who often do earn less than private industry counterparts are never taken into consideration in this type of query.And this MUST be taken into consideration. Otherwise there is no baseline for comparison, and opinions are worthless. Sorry.

    The old answer to this, I find highly offensive. ”Let them get private jobs if they don’t like it”. Many of us took the job for reasons other than money, straight out of college. Thinking we could make a difference, do good for the general public. We opted for “security” instead of money. Money was not the most important issue. Only as we got older with families to support, bills to pay, did it become more of a priority.Only when we are staring retirement in the face, do we realize we SHOULD have gone for the money and altruistic desires should be damned.

    Govt Employees must have pay parity with private. Otherwise you will get what you pay for. The good talent will go where the money is, leaving incompetent fools, and the naïve who think they can make a difference taking the govt jobs.

    For those who say, “move over, you govt employee, I would be happy to have your job” My answer is, go take the civil service exam if you REALLY want a govt job. It is competitive, highest score gets the job offer first. If you think you have what it takes, what is keeping you back?

    Don’t offer some sort of pay parity to the rank and file employees, and the public will deserve the lousy service it gets.

    Please, when considering what govt employees are being paid, don’t only think of the officials. There are MANY MANY more rank and file employees who don’t come close to the stereo type many of the general public have.


  13. Sig -- I did think of you when I wrote this, though certainly not in a bad way. I don't know how much you make, but I wouldn't imagine it would be more than $80,000. My negaive rant doesn't apply to people like you or most of the regular government paid employees. However, I think there are administrative and supervisory personnel that it does apply to.

    I don't think private and public sector can be compared because of the source of funding. If government were operated like a business and we were seeing profits and production of goods then maybe pay could be based on those factors. However when pay and productivity are on the backs of tax payers and businesses then I think a certain resentment does come about.

    Without business and the workers of business there could be no way to fund government and yet government places tremendous burdens on business--especially business unfriendly states like California. With the exodus of businesses and productive people it's no wonder the government is having economic problems. Business has a difficult time being able to afford to operate in the state. And yet the government continues to ban plasitc bags, or tax soft drinks, or whatever the next wacky environmental, health, or safety issue is. And at the same time we continue to grow our prison populations, pander to illegals, and grovel at the feet of union idiots.

    Don't get me wrong-- my wife is a government employee and thank goodness for her good pay and benefits. They are helping to keep us going. But if she were making $150,000 or more I wouldn't tell her to turn it down, but I would still think it was wrong.

    If the government were a business it would have been out of business a long time ago if it had been operated the way it has been operated. There is an ethical sickness in our country and much of the world that is eventually going to lead to some really bad things. At least that's the way it strikes me.

    But, Sig, love you and I know you're doing your best to do what you can and I believe your heart is in the right place. Nothing bad coming from me towards you or any of the others that I had hoped to hear from. These are difficult times for a lot of people and there is a lot of reassessment that needs to be done by a lot of people.

  14. Lee,

    It is said by so many…”if the govt were run like a business…”. I wonder how many really think about what they are stating? Do they know what that means? Truly?

    Think about it. Govt cannot be run like a business. Comparing business to govt is comparing apples to oranges. While to a minor extent, there might be some similarities, but over all, no.

    Business is run on profit, and sales. There is a reward for some (especially commissioned employees) to sell lots (thereby working hard). There is profit sharing, and stocks. How do you have these incentives in government without major corruption? Should I be paid a commission on the dollar amount of penalties I issue? Should there be a dollar amount (commission) on the number of inspections I do in a year? Number of citations or percent Serious violations I write?

    We have our standards by which we are judged by, namely those I mentioned above. Of course, in our policies it does not come right out and state how many cites we are expected to write per inspection, or the % serious, that would smack of quotas. So…it is a kind of verbal “work expectation or goal”. Other agencies have similar goals or expectations. Don’t think for a moment we aren’t held to the gun…turn around rates, and other “production” standards. In this aspect, we are like a business…only the public never sees this.

    Consider those job classifications in govt. Outside of the ones everyone thinks of (elected and appointed politicians), Teachers, lawyers, health officials, engineers, scientists of all disciplines, police, guards, game wardens, veterinarians, are only a start. Some highly educated, others not. Pay that is not competitive for a position for a Dr in the CDC for example will get you a Dr who might not be as talented if he was paid better.

    Someone here said that why shouldn’t politicians work for nothing, do the job like Lincoln for love of country and all that’s good. Look at Arnie. He is doing the job for “nothing”…all for what he considers to be for love of CA…and look at the mess he created. Pay talent well, and what they deserve, govt or private if you want a good job.
    Putting a 150K cap for all govt employees will keep those away for the highly skilled positions we need them for and if you think there is corruption now, we will start to look more like the Mexican govt.

    Yes spending is out of control. Too much welfare, now unemployment is extended…too many people getting something for not working. Put them to work. Want welfare or unemployment, there must be something that the govt can put those people to work at to EARN that money until they find a job they like better. Want that document in your language, or need a translator? Sure…for a fee. And don’t get me started on the “benefits” that illegals get!!

    Love ya too!!

  15. Sig-- I understand and empathize with several of your arguments. Everything including ourselves can be run like a wisely run business from the standpoint of sensible spending and not spending what you realistically don't have without going to extremes (like bank robbery, cheating customers, or ridiculously high taxation). Government is notorious for absurd spending (like the notorious $800 hammers or $6000 toilet seats). Most business are watching pennies because it's their money and their profit. This is how government should be operating like a business has to operate.

    I think there is a fair share of corruption in the government, but I think there are also many ethical, well-meaning individuals like yourself. Some of the biggest culprits are unions and lawyers.

    I am not sure that many government positions (like doctors) should ever necessarity be thought of as a life long career if money is the issue. It is a matter of service. I don't want to get into that issue too much right now, but I think that is what some were referring to when they said elected officials should work for little or nothing-- and I think there is a good argument for that.

    I think our governor did go into the office with good intentions but with naivite. He was facing the scumming shark pool of the legislature and special interest groups and under the current system who can fight that-- you end up joining it or being caught up in it and carried with the current.

    As for all of the money sucking programs and pandering to the illegals and other lowlife groups, I think it is just another symptom of where our society is. Everyone wants to dip into the pot and get their share. From the top with the CEOs and company executives and politicians, to the union workers, to the companies shipping jobs overseas, to the gang member selling drugs, to the person on welfare-- everyone wants more and doesnt' think logically about who's going to pay. It's not just the government, but it's all around and that's partly what's going sink not just the ship of the U.S., but a bunch of ships all over the place if people don't wake up.

    I'll stop there, but I think in the upcoming elections we're going to start hearing a lot more about this. And then when Obama and his bunch screw us royally next year, if the economy tanks this will become major fodder for the next presidential campaign.

    I wish more would have come in defense of government workers, but a lot of people who are not government employees are frustrated.


  16. $800 toilet seats= Military. That's where a lot of spending is out of control (why are we REALLY in this war?). FYI, in order to buy ANYTHING, our state has to put out bids to at least 3 vendors (at least one has to be minority owned). We have to buy from the lowest bidder.

    The State car assigned to me is a beat up 11 year old chevy cavalier. And I do mean beat up. The dash is cracked in 3 places from the heat. The State wont pay to have it fixed. My computer is about 9 years old. I can safely say that our Depart. is not living high on the hog. We don't even have enough equipment to do our jobs well because we are not given the money. We aren't even funded by the general fund. We get a good chunk from the feds, the rest comes through workers comp. So...its not even state money.

    Dr's should consider govt work as "service"? I suppose to some degree any state job is "Service". But why not a career? To protect the public from diseases, set policies and do the research that does not have the money making bias that big drug companies have...There is much more than meets the eye. Why should they be penalized by working for the govt? gee...maybe we should all get paid the same peanuts. Smacks of communistic thought.

    Officials should be paid, and paid well, You really stand by little/no pay for them? Yes, going back to the 800K for the city mgr is excessive...but the position does need to be paid well. Great, you will continue to get wealthy idiots who don't know what it is like to work, to struggle to make ends meet, who dont give a darned about "regular" people. You will only get the wealthy. Who else could work for nothing/little except the wealthy? Set up for the rich ruling the peons. Lets go back to feudalism. Crazy thinking in my opinion.

    I am really sick of govt worker bashing. We are no different than private industry workers. There are good and bad on both sides. How many rude dead weights do I see in private industry? Plenty. I worked with enough of them before I worked for the govt. We are the same no matter what. Its just that it is easy to pick on govt workers because we arent as invisible as some private industries. We have to account to the public much more than private, that is the nature of what we do.

    So the outliers, and exaggerations is what the public knows and constantly quotes. The real facts are always ignored.

    You could have more defense of govt workers if you got facts straight, and didnt rely on stereotypes and convoluted second hand information.

    Enough said/signing out on this topic

  17. My thanks to all on this topic. Don't think any minds were changed, but it's always interesting to hear both sides of the story.

    Anyone who still wants to weigh in on the topic is invited and encouraged to do so.


  18. I haven't read all of the comments, so I apologize in advance if I repeat a point.

    I also apologize if I offend a reader who may be a government employee. I recognize that my experiences may not hold true with all government employees, but I've not had one positive example.

    I have always believed in a fair market wage, and I would support that for government workers. However, it has been my experience that government workers are not subject to the same expectations that private sector workers are.

    I frequently work with government auditors and find them to be lazy and usually incompetent. I have experienced government auditors sleeping in my conference room (mouth open and snoring loudly enough to disturb people in the adjoining conference room), showing up late and leaving early, taking excessive breaks, and simply not knowing the basics about what they are doing, even after decades in government service.

    Were these my employees, they would have been fired.

    I run an accounting department and will not even consider hiring someone out of government unless they've already shown a track record in the private sector after their government service.

    I would rather see the government manage its employee base to a higher standard. If so, I think we'd achieve lower government salary costs when the government realized it was overstaffed.

    Someone made a comment about a city manager earning more than the President. The current President has often compared his salary to private corporations as well.

    I have no opinion on the market value of a city manager, but I would caution everyone to remember that if the President were 1099'd for the cost of renting the White House, using Air Force One, around the clock Secret Service protection for life, vacations at Camp David and all the other perks that come with being the President, we'd all be feeling a little less outrage about other salaries because you'd have a fairer picture of the President's compensation package.


  19. In this economy it is difficult to justify. I think Mary has the right idea.

  20. Larry -- The point you make about the presidential compensation package is something that goes for nearly all of the officials and many employees. They have outrageous expense accounts and other perks and benefits that push their compensation way beyond what most people in the private sector receive.


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