Governments Find That You Get Whom You Pay for, or Lose Them

Article excerpt

The blind fish that swim in the caves of Arkansas have a friend in Steve Wilson. As director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which regulates hunting and fishing in the state, Wilson also helps to protect the state's endangered cave fish, burying beetles, bald eagles and alligators.

Wilson is paid pretty well for his myriad responsibilities. In fact, he makes more than Gov. Mike Huckabee. Wilson's salary of $82,175 is close to 30 percent more than the governor's $63,407 annual pay. Even Wilson's assistant director, Scott Henderson, makes $3,062 more than the governor.

Indeed, a lot of Arkansas state government employees earn more than the governor. If Arkansas didn't pay top managers more than it pays the governor, the state would be hard pressed to find qualified people to fill important positions. Many states and localities have found themselves in the same boat. They are coming up with ways to pay salaries to department heads, specialists and high-ranking aides that are higher - and sometimes much higher - than those they pay their top elected officials. "At certain levels, you have to pay to attract people you want," said Rex Nelson, Arkansas' director of policy and communications, who earns about $6,500 more than the governor. "The state is by far the biggest employer. You would want qualified people running that enterprise." Many governments are bound by laws that cap salaries or peg them to the mayor's or governor's so no one may make more. And most face public resistance to raising pay for bureaucrats who some constituents think are already too well paid. Many Exceed $100,000 Nevertheless, government salaries have started to rise pretty substantially all over the country. The upward pressure on salaries is likely to put more government employees in the $100,000 club, though the club is hardly lacking members. Burrow down a couple of layers in many different states and localities, and six-figure salaries aren't hard to find. In Virginia, for example, 783 employees (many of them university employees) were earning salaries of $100,000 or more as of this past spring. That's 289 more than in 1993. In all, 382 of Virginia's 107,118 state employees pull down more than the $110,000 that Gov. George Allen receives. Virginia is hardly alone. Many governments have come to realize that, salary constraints or not, they need to find ways to attract and keep talented employees to run their complex government operations. With businesses only too willing to review the resumes of accomplished government workers and lure away the best of them, governments have to pay more to compete. Rather than watch helplessly while their workers are snatched away, many governments have gotten creative. …


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