Starving Public Services to Pay More to Government Workers

On several occasions, I have wondered why progressives continue to be so supportive of paying too many government workers too much at the cost of reducing the government services they seem so passionate about.  This is something I seen in the public parks world all the time.  Arizona State Parks, for example, has about half of its employees in headquarters buildings rather out in the field serving the public while at the same time paying these headquarters staff very high salaries.  This is despite the fact that the agency has tens of millions of dollars of deferred maintenance it refuses to address.

I see this story repeated over and over in the public parks world -- when forced to choose, government agencies will cut back on maintenance and services to protect total staffing numbers, pay, and benefits.

The New York Times found something similar in the New York Subway:

An examination by The New York Times reveals in stark terms how the needs of the aging, overburdened system have grown while city and state politicians have consistently steered money away from addressing them.

Century-old tunnels and track routes are crumbling, but The Times found that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s budget for subway maintenance has barely changed, when adjusted for inflation, from what it was 25 years ago.

Signal problems and car equipment failures occur twice as frequently as a decade ago, but hundreds of mechanic positions have been cut because there is not enough money to pay them — even though the average total compensation for subway managers has grown to nearly $300,000 a year.

Later they go into more detail about payrolls:

Subway workers now make an average of $170,000 annually in salary, overtime and benefits, according to a Times analysis of data compiled by the federal Department of Transportation. That is far more than in any other American transit system; the average in cities like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington is about $100,000 in total compensation annually.

The pay for managers is even more extraordinary. The nearly 2,500 people who work in New York subway administration make, on average, $280,000 in salary, overtime and benefits. The average elsewhere is $115,000....

Union rules also drive up costs, including by requiring two M.T.A. employees on every train — one to drive, and one to oversee boarding. Virtually every other subway in the world staffs trains with only one worker; if New York did that, it would save nearly $200 million a year, according to an internal M.T.A. analysis obtained by The Times.

Several M.T.A. officials involved in negotiating recent contracts said that there was one reason they accepted the union’s terms: Mr. Cuomo.

The governor, who is closely aligned with the union and has received $165,000 in campaign contributions from the labor group, once dispatched a top aide to deliver a message, they said.

Pay the union and worry about finding the money later, the aide said, according to two former M.T.A. officials who were in the room.

They do not mention pensions.  Who wants to be there is also a looming unfunded pension crisis here?


  1. DirtyJobsGuy:

    The same scenario occurs in public schools. The home office/administrator roles are a way to create highly compensated jobs well above the rank and file. Since this is not measured against any performance criteria the public doesn't see the details. Private contractors tend to level this out. But even if you kept it with public employees a strong management could move staff to line operations perhaps with enhanced longevity and performance measures.

  2. Solomon Foster:

    Holy crap! I listened to Tyler's interview with Sujatha Gidla -- -- and assumed when she said "In Bank of New York, I was making much more money. Even in 2009, I was making almost three times what I make in MTA" that meant she was making something like $30,000 a year now. If she's actually making more like $170,000 a year now, that puts a really different light on that part of the conversation. Gobsmacked....

  3. Nehemiah:

    There are two groups of progressives, the elite professional class, i.e., politicians and academics. And then there is the laity, garden variety want-a-be elitists. The true elites really don't care that much about results, it is about collecting power unto themselves which includes building the bureaucracy. The want-a-be's may grumble a little about the waste, but they'll follow the lead of the professional class and hope that one day they'll arrive.

  4. Variant:

    Always interested in the total compensation breakdown on the benefits side. In the private sector, my TC is probably fairly impressive given the health care package I have, but at the age I am now, I rarely take advantage of it and have no dependents, so not sure it's really adding equivalent value (I'd prefer to have the $$ in my paycheck).

    Nevertheless, the incentive systems in these government agencies is severely out of whack. Tilted heavily towards making the unions happy rather than their core mission. Losers are the consumers of the services.

  5. C078342:

    $170k in total compensation? For uneducated employees? How did this happen? Oh, I know. Public sector unions. Ford to NYC: Drop dead!

  6. kidmugsy:

    "government agencies will cut back on maintenance and services": as my father used to explain to me where I was an adolescent.

    How did the Romans deal with it? Build stuff that might last a couple of millennia with little or no maintenance?

  7. Matthew Slyfield:

    "Arizona State Parks, for example, has about half of its employees in
    headquarters buildings rather out in the field serving the public while
    at the same time paying these headquarters staff very high salaries.
    This is despite the fact that the agency has tens of millions of dollars
    of deferred maintenance it refuses to address."

    There is very simple explanation for this, government management salaries from mid-level management all the way up to political appointees, is determined primarily by two factors. Budget and staff head count. By cutting services while maintaining head count, the manager minimize the budge hit to their own salary and create a hit to the general public that will likely lead to a push to increase their budget.

    It has nothing to do with right/left political issues and everything to do with the personal self interest of agency management.

  8. Matthew Slyfield:

    Yes, the Romans built things that stood for centuries, but very little of it was still in usable condition even 1 millennium after the fall of the Roman Empire.

  9. joe:

    Similar misallocation of research in climate science - too many researchers in AC offices working the computer models and too few in the field doing actual research

  10. johncunningham:

    I worked 25 years for the National Labor Relations Board, which I investigates employer-union disputes. The agency typically had more employees in the DC headquarters Ethan 8n the field. In the 1980s, this meant 1300 employees supervising 900 field staff.

  11. Ike:

    Public. Sector. Unions.

    Start with abolishing this, and a lot of this garbage will be fixed.

  12. mesaeconoguy:

    NY is well on the way to becoming Detroit without the charming heavy industry.

  13. Ron Liebermann:

    There is no way to rescue the system as it stands right now. All unions, government or not, have negotiated ridiculous salary and pension packages which are immoral; and unsustainable. The only solution is to shut everything down; dissolve the unions; and start over.

  14. theelephantschild:

    I've seen the statistic several times claiming that federal government workers are paid almost twice as much as their counterparts in the private sector. It would seem that you could do a lot for the federal budget by freezing pay increases until the private sector catches up. It's fairly obvious that a federal worker is not worth twice what his counterpart in the private sector receives. From what we read about federal worker's and their jobs, we not only have way too many free-loaders, but we simply have way too many workers.

  15. Sisyphus:

    Yup, after all,machinery doesn't vote...

  16. Ike:

    Machines don't vote, at least, not yet. I don't understand your point?

  17. Sisyphus:

    It is one of the reasons for the 'pay rate' and the lack of machine maintenance...


  18. Jerry_In_Detroit:

    The answer is actually simple. Government entities hire employees who belong to unions who contribute to pliable politicians to hire more employees,