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Are state workers overpaid?

October 1, 2012 |  2:00 pm

The high salaries earned by California state workers have long rankled voters, who are again being asked to raise their taxes in November.

The average California government employee earned $70,777 in 2011. That’s nearly $16,000 more than the nationwide average for state workers.

A new report by a liberal leaning think tank in the Bay Area nonetheless argues that state workers are hardly living large.  

“If you take total state employee pay as a percentage of state personal income, California ranks near the middle,” it says. “State employee pay represents 1.8% of personal income in California, slightly below the national average of 1.9%. That would rank California below 34 other states.”

The report also notes that California has fewer state employees per capita than other states. It warns that trimming the state workforce even more would have consequences.

“California is not overstaffed,” the report says, “a stronger case can be made that public programs are being carried out with less staffing than in most other states.”

While the report offers a welcome perspective for public employee unions helping Gov. Jerry Brown campaign for tax hikes, critics of the state’s payroll practices are unlikely to back off anytime soon. The bottom line continues to be that California state workers get paid the most and get some of the most generous benefits in the country; for antitax activists, those are helpful talking points. 

[Updated 3:19 p.m. Oct. 1: The report was issued by the Palo Alto-based Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy. Here is a link.]


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--Evan Halper in Sacramento