Writings and observations


The state of Washington has a agency called the Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials, whose job is what its name implies. It has a catchy slogan: “We evaluate the position – Voters evaluate the performance.”

Might be interesting to establish a statewide commission for Idaho to compare and evaluate state pay more broadly. In the Gem State, pay for state elected officials is set by the legislature, and pay for many other types of employees are set in all kinds of ways.

The lack of a single set of standards across the board becomes evident when you scroll down the list of the highest state employees’ salaries in Idaho, provided on May 11 by the state controller’s office (at transparent.idaho.gov). The simplest of several lists here to read covers state employees who are paid more than the state’s chief executive officer, the governor, whose pay is set at $122,597.

In truth, that gubernatorial pay seems low in today’s marketplace for the top leader of a large, complex organization. But according to the report, 332 state employees are paid more; probably a greater number than ever has been the case (and certainly more such employees than any time in the last decade). And that’s factoring in a pay raise for the governor this year.

Who gets paid the most? Of the top 10 highest-salaried employees, seven work for Boise State University. One of those is the president, Robert Kustra (ranks at number three); his counterparts at the University of Idaho and Idaho State University, who are close behind, account for two of the others in the top ten. All but one of those 10 are university employees.

So what are the other high-level BSU spots that lead the state employee list? You probably don’t need me to tell you: They’re in the athletics wing of the institution. The only state employee paid a salary of more than a million dollars is football coach Bryan Harsin. BSU athletics employees are well represented among the top 100 or so state employees. Top pay at the athletics jobs at the other universities generally is considerably less.

Colleges and universities absolutely dominate the ranks of the highest-paid. Of the 100 highest paid employees in Idaho state government, I count all but about a tenth as located in higher education. The chief investment officer for the state retirement fund ranks high (not unexpected given the nature of the job and private sector counterparts).

Several physicians in the Department of Health and Welfare rank within the 100 too, and a few others are scattered there, including top executives at the State Insurance Fund. In line with pay outside of government, top medical officials often are among the better-paid state employees. Still, they account for only a few toward the top of Idaho’s list.

Attorneys with substantial responsibility and experience often are paid well on the private side, but attorney positions generally pay less well in state government. The top attorneys in the Attorney General’s office overall rank well below the top 100, not a lot more than the governor is paid.

None of this is meant as an argument that any of these jobs, taken alone, are over- or under-paid. (On the list overall, I’m more inclined to place more jobs in the second category than in the first.)

But a scan down the list, and some reflection on the responsibilities of the jobs – an evaluation of the position, not the performance – may lead you to wonder about some of the priorities, and numbers.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus