There is something quaint and comforting in the fact that Govs. Martin O'Malley (salary: $150,000) and Bob McDonnell (salary: $175,000) do not have the highest salaries among the public employees in their respective states. But there is something truly disconcerting about the fact that neither man is even among the top 100 highest-paid state employees.
In fact, McDonnell ranks 892nd among Virginia's public servants, and O'Malley stands at only 1,719th. Virginia has 6,194 state employees that it pays more than $100,000 per year. Maryland has 5,501, according to a report by The Examiner's Ben Giles. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage-earner in both states makes right around $52,000 per year.
Government workers deserve a fair wage. And we recognize that some people -- such as the surgeons at the University of Maryland School of Medicine -- have specialized skills that don't come cheaply. But neither state has hired so many thousand brain surgeons. The numbers tell the story of public-sector wages that probably do not reflect market realities.
Taxpayers are right to ask questions, such as: Does Virginia really need to pay a $400,000 salary to professors at its state universities? Is the president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore really worth $710,000 per year? Those Virginians who are aware that there exists a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (it's in Richmond) might also ask themselves whether $279,000 is a bit much to pay its director.
State officials are forever complaining about tight budgets and the need to make sacrifices, but those sacrifices always seem to come at the taxpayer's expense. Maryland passed a tax hike on every individual making $100,000 a year and on every family earning more than a combined $150,000.
Such high state salaries not only burden these taxpayers, but they also warp the perspective of state officials. The concept of "public service" seems to be on its way to extinction, superseded by the notion of government work as being both more lucrative and more secure than that of the private sector. It would be a shame to see a noble idea like public service killed off by public servants who view themselves as a new nobility.