Before the 1930 baseball season, Yankees’ slugger Babe Ruth signed a one-year contract for $80,000, what was then a staggering sum. The idea that a baseball player could make that sort of money was offensive to some people as the Great Depression descended on the nation. When a reporter asked Ruth if he thought he deserved to make more money than President Hoover, the Babe didn’t bat an eye, though: “Why not?” he said. “I had a better year than he did.”
We are reminded of that moment after reading a report from the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, which it calls a “bombshell report” and is entitled “The Fat Cat Report.”
The premise of the report is that there are many state employees whose salaries exceed that of the Governor ($122,160 per year).
This is hardly the bombshell the MCPP would have us believe. The Governor hasn’t been among the highest paid state employees in decades and naming it “The Fat Cat Report” is more a click-bait flourish designed to spark indignation than an effort to address any meaningful issue.
Based on what is included in the report (and just as important, what isn’t) and how these “outrages” are quantified reveals the true nature of the MCPP Report.
It’s yet another attack on K-12 education in an area where it is judged to be most vulnerable: the salaries of top school district officials.
According to the report, of the 50 highest-paid public employees in the state, almost half are school superintendents. The report makes special note that many of these highest paid superintendents work in underperforming school districts.
It’s a cheap shot.
The salaries of school superintendents are market-driven and competitive.
There are few highly qualified superintendent candidates; it’s not a stretch to believe there are even fewer willing to relocate to rural Mississippi and especially to struggling districts. For many parts of the state, salary is one of the few bargaining chips a school board may have.
That’s not to say there are no bloated salaries in public positions. But broadly classifying everyone who earns more than the governor as a “fat cat” without any real evidence is not constructive and in this case hurts the state’s image.
MCPP’s report lists suggested actions — presumably targeted to state lawmakers — which would require state-level approval for any local school district salary that exceeds that of the governor.
Communities should be able to hire the school superintendent best for their district without approval from the legislature. Pegging education salary caps to the governor’s pay will significantly hamstring school districts.
Interestingly, the report seems to specifically target public employees in education, but half of those listed among the group whose salaries exceed that of the governor are not local public-school employees.
In fact, the highest paid state employees — university presidents and major sports coaches at our large universities — are nowhere to be found on this list.
Why aren’t other state officials who are included on the list — executive director of Medical Licensure Board, executive director of state Medicaid, Executive Director of Public Employee Retirement System, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, Executive Director of the Pharmacy Bureau and many others — not referred to as “fat cats?” Why aren’t their perceived performances measured against their salaries?
As for how much outrage there should be about people being paid more than the Governor, well, we’re inclined to side with The Babe on this one.
Who had the better year?
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.