NEWS that several state agency directors have received five-digit pay raises has prompted predictable outcry. State workers, including some who've had no raise in a number of years, understandably feel slighted.
That's natural, but such outcry was unavoidable. A study of agency director salaries done by the Hay Group, a consulting firm retained by the state, found some directors' salaries were well below the amounts paid to comparable positions.
The Tourism Commission voted to raise Oklahoma Tourism Executive Director Deby Snodgrass' salary from about $86,000 to $126,508. That's a big jump — but it also places Snodgrass' salary at the midpoint of the $101,206 to $151,810 range identified by the Hay Group study. Snodgrass' pay was far less than the minimum amount paid to most of her counterparts. In government, as in the private sector, you get what you pay for. The state must offer competitive salaries to attract qualified, competent people, particularly as agency leaders. To do otherwise will generate greater inefficiency and incompetence than what already occurs in government.
We've noted before that state government salaries shouldn't be lavish compared with private-sector levels, but neither should people have to engage in financial self-sacrifice to work for the taxpayers.
Granted, it would have been better if officials had unveiled a plan to address the pay of ground-level workers even as they boosted the salaries of those at the top of the pyramid. But no major pay raise for agency directors would have been cheered by the rank and file. Even if everyone got a raise, the fact that agency directors would get larger pay increases than lower-tier employees would still have prompted criticism.
This episode illustrates the folly of kicking issues down the road, a tactic routinely employed in this state government. Gradual raises, implemented over time, would have kept directors' pay competitive without the need for an abrupt, enormous pay spike in a single year. The same thing is true for the pay of all state employees.