Alabama Scene

Alabama: low taxes but good state pay



The following are the words of Dr. David Bronner, CEO of The Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), on the state’s fiscal problems as published in the May, 2012, RSA newsletter.

“I know it does little good to repeat the simple facts that Alabamians pay the least amount of state taxes in the country, and if we paid just what the good folks in Mississippi paid in taxes, Alabama would have an additional $1.2 billion in revenue.

“But to know that we are facing a true train wreck in the funding of state government services come Oct. 1 – and remain silent – is not leadership.”

He then urged Governor Bentley’s cabinet to make the governor and the Legislature fully aware of what these cuts would do to their agencies.

“Everyone clearly wants the most efficient and least costly state government possible. However, we cannot allow our great progress of the last 15 years to be washed away because we are afraid to tell our citizens that without some revenue relief, Alabama cannot compete – much less succeed – in the future,” Bronner added.

Let me be clear here that Dr. Bronner is speaking in reference to the general funding for state government that does not include secondary education and I concur with him on much of what he says, with some exceptions.

Looking at census data from March 2010, Alabama ranked No. 1 in the number of state workers on the payroll among seven similarsize states. The states compared, followed by population rank, were Minnesota, 21; Colorado, 22; Alabama, 23; South Carolina, 24; Louisiana, 25; Kentucky, 26; and Oregon, 27.

The Census Bureau’s data for 2010 public employees and payrolls show that comparing the seven states listed above (hereafter referred to as the survey states) shows that Alabama, with 107,657 full- and part-time workers led the pack, followed by Louisiana with 104,325, Minnesota with 98,437, Kentucky with 98,127, Colorado with 96,875, South Carolina with 89,741, and Oregon with 83,083. These numbers include employees at public colleges and universities, but not those at secondary schools.

Comparing the payroll in the survey states for state employees (including university personnel) in the same month of March 2010, Alabama ranked No. 3 according to Census Bureau numbers. Here are those rankings: (1) Minnesota with $404,157,831, (2) Louisiana with $368,079,595, Alabama with $357,087,371, Colorado with $347,658,741, Kentucky with $309,681,195, Oregon with $289,734,102, and South Carolina with $286,281,365. What this tells me is that Alabama funding of state payrolls is more than adequate.

This is confirmed by a recent report that state employees in Alabama rank third in the South in average salary.

Louisiana leads the list at $45,438 annually, followed by Virginia at $44,064, and Alabama at $42,966. The report is based on employees in state government and does not include school employees.

The report shows Alabama is second in the region in state holidays with 13. Virginia is number one with 17 holidays. Alabama’s state employees rank eighth in the maximum number of sick days granted per year with 13.

The Personnel Department’s report says the average age of Alabama’s state employees keeps increasing and is now nearly 46. More than 36 percent of the state employees are within five years of being able to retire.

It appears clear to me that Alabama doesn’t skimp on the numbers, perks, or salaries of its state workers. Yet we certainly can’t be proud of a per capita income of just $22,984 and with 17 percent of our population of nearly five million living below the poverty level.

With some 40 workers at the Retirement Systems making more than $100,000, perhaps Dr. Bronner could make some adjustments for future workers. It has been a mystery to me why RSA is not a part of the state employee pay plan. Why does RSA have the authority to pay anybody just about any amount? Dr. Bronner receives $47,524.50 a month, which is more than the median household income in the state from 2006-10 according to U. S. census data. His annual pay is $570,294.00.

He recently fired his deputy director who was earning $363,183.30 annually. So if Dr. Bronner wants “less costly, more efficient government,” he should start in his own backyard by abolishing that position.

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: