California truly is the golden state. Just look at its state employees. California may be sliding toward bankruptcy, but its state employees have been raking in the gold with nearly 1 billion in overtime. That’s enough money to feel all of Africa for a week.
In Micronesia, Somalia and the British Virgin Islands, 1 billion dollars is their entire GDP. 1 billion is the entire national budget of Rwanda, Monaco, Haiti and Afghanistan. (You wouldn’t catch Gaza making do on so little. Their budget is 2 billion dollars.)
But in California, 1 billion dollars is overtime. California workers in the golden state take in $5,000 more in average pay than New York, $9,000 more than Illinois, and twice as much as Georgia.
In California, Governor Jerry Brown hasn’t curbed overtime expenses that lead the 12 largest states or limited payments for accumulated vacation time that allowed one employee to collect $609,000 at retirement in 2011.
Last year, Brown waived a cap on accrued leave for prison guards while granting them additional paid days off. California’s liability for the unused leave of its state workers has more than doubled in eight years, to $3.9 billion in 2011, from $1.4 billion in 2003, according to the state’s annual financial reports.
In California, a state psychiatrist was paid $822,000, a highway patrol officer collected $484,000 in pay and pension benefits and 17 employees got checks of more than $200,000 for unused vacation and leave. The best-paid staff in other states earned far less for the same work, according to the data.
Davis had taken office in 1999 with a $12 billion budget surplus. Four years later, he began his second term by reporting a $35 billion budget deficit — about $1,000 for every man, woman and child in the state.
The prison guards’ union gave Davis more than $3 million for his various elections, including $250,000 a few weeks after the pay increase was negotiated, campaign records show. The state’s auditor, Elaine Howle, in July 2002 estimated the contract cost taxpayers an extra $500 million a year.
“California spends most of its money on salaries, retirement payments, health care benefits for government workers, and other compensation,” said Schwarzenegger, 65, who replaced Davis as governor. “State revenues are up more than 50 percent over the past 10 years, but still we’ve had to cut spending on services because so much of that revenue increase went to increases in compensation and benefits.”
The result isn’t only a heavier burden on California taxpayers. As higher expenses competed for fewer dollars, per- pupil funding of the state’s public schools dropped to 35th nationally in 2009-2010 from 22nd in 2001-2002. Californians have endured recurring budget deficits throughout the past decade and now face the country’s highest debt and Standard & Poor’s lowest credit rating for a U.S. state.
The disparity with other states is also evident in payments for accumulated vacation time when employees leave public service. No other state covered by the data compiled by Bloomberg paid a worker more than $200,000 for accrued leave last year, while 17 people got such payments in California. There were 240 employees who received at least $100,000 in California, compared with 42 in the other 11 states, the data show.
California also leads in overtime expenses, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Last year, it paid $964 million in overtime to 110,000 workers, an average of $8,741 per employee. That was more than twice the $415 million New York paid in overtime to 80,000 staff members, for an average of $5,199, and almost as much as all the other states in the database combined. In Georgia, total overtime for 8,935 workers last year was $12.3 million, an average $1,378.
California employees generally make at least 1.5 times their regular pay to work overtime.
California had almost 11,000 workers in the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation who made $100,000 or more in 2011, and about 900 prison employees earning more than $200,000 a year, data compiled by Bloomberg show. New York had none. Its top-paid officer is a sergeant at Sing Sing Correctional Facility who made $170,000 last year.
Nurses in California last year made $673 million in total pay, including $103 million in overtime, or 15.3 percent. By contrast, those in New York made $561 million in total pay, of which almost $40 million was in overtime, or 7.1 percent.
Forty-two nurses in California’s prisons and mental hospitals have reaped especially rich overtime payouts. They made an average of $1.3 million each during the seven years, including $674,000 in overtime.
The highest-paid nurse in the seven years was Lina Manglicmot, who worked at a state prison in Soledad, about 130 miles (209 kilometers) south of San Francisco. She collected $1.7 million from 2005 through 2011, including $1 million in overtime, the data show. Manglicmot declined to comment.