The political payroll

| August 31, 2013

imagesEditorial by Greensboro News-Record, August 30,2013.

If a government agency’s overall payroll is down, does it matter if some of its top employees get really big salaries?

That depends on what the agency delivers for the money.

Gov. Pat McCrory, granted the opportunity to make many more political appointments to the state workforce than previous administrations, raised pay for some of his cabinet chiefs as well as other lieutenants. Even low-ranking employees are doing well.

“An analysis by WRAL News shows most of these newly exempt (from state personnel policies) employees are already paid at the top of their salary ranges,” the Raleigh TV station reported this week. “Compared with their nonexempt colleagues, who are overwhelmingly paid at the bottom of their pay scales, the difference is stark.”

The governor defends the practice as necessary to attract the best people to state government service — people he can count on to implement his policies.

That sends a more negative message to career employees. Aren’t some of them among “the best people,” too? Their salaries are flat, but they are asked to “do more with less,” thanks to reductions in force through attrition.

The Department of Health and Human Services — whose secretary, Dr. Aldona Wos, commendably is working for just $1 per year — is an agency that is paying other key leaders salaries above and beyond the state scale for their positions. Yet, “Overall, DHHS’ payroll is approximately $21.9 million less than one year ago,” its spokesman told WRAL.

If Wos and her highly paid top brass can increase efficiency and get as much service from the agency despite its lower payroll, so much the better for the public. If not, then padding the payroll with political appointees will have been a very bad move.

McCrory recently defended the hiring of two highly paid 24-year-olds at DHHS, saying they were the most-qualified applicants. Yet the department has been unable to produce evidence that the jobs were advertised and there were any other applicants.

Democrats are calling for a legislative investigation of administration salaries, complaining that the Republican governor is boosting pay for insiders while teachers and other state workers are losing ground. That may not get far. Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis awarded big pay raises to members of his own staff soon after taking office.

This isn’t a Republican trait by any means. Democrats are second-to-none in rewarding political supporters with government jobs. (Remember former first lady Mary Easley, whose husband, then-Gov. Mike Easley, arranged a cushy, well-paid post for her at N.C. State.) For Republicans, though, the practice contradicts their expressed disdain for bloated government and overpaid bureaucrats.

The legislature has expanded McCrory’s authority to hire exempt employees from fewer than 500 positions to 1,500. That’s a patronage bonanza at public expense. If the governor is to deliver on his promise of making government run more effectively, he must make sure he’s hiring people who are capable of doing good work and are being paid salaries that are fair to them, to other state employees and to the taxpayers.

Category: NC SPIN Perspectives - Opinions from NC Leaders & Organizations

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