If only state government noticed its own salaries

Good for state Budget Director Ben Barnes for chiding Connecticut hospital executives for drawing salaries of as much as $1 million and $2 million from supposedly nonprofit operations while complaining about cuts in financial aid from state government.

In an interview with the Journal Inquirer the other day, Barnes put a nice proletarian touch on his criticism. “My salary is $189,000,” Barnes said. “I’m extremely well paid and live a charmed life. I can pay for my kids to go to college, support a family, and live in a nice house. I don’t understand how someone running a nonprofit should be making so much money. When you get into seven digits, it suggests that a nonprofit is producing ample revenue to support its public mission without an increase in public subsidy.”

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Readers may know that Eastern Connecticut Health Network (ECHN), which operates Manchester Memorial and Rockville General hospitals, pays its chief executive more than a million dollars a year and that he and three other extravagantly paid ECHN executives have bought expensive vacation homes near each other in Florida, three in gated resorts, where they can gather over drinks at poolside in January and commiserate about government’s stinginess.

Those executive salaries and vacation homes would have made for a more interesting discussion last week when, at the instigation of the Connecticut Hospital Association, hundreds of hospital employees crowded the Legislative Office Building to urge legislators to appropriate more for their institutions than Gov. Malloy proposes. But then the governor himself could have forced the issue into discussion by proposing to connect state hospital aid with executive compensation, cutting aid where salaries are extravagant.

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Besides, the state budget director’s astonishment over hospital executive salaries is pretty ironic amid the high salaries paid in state government itself without similar complaint from the Malloy administration.

After all, just a few weeks ago the Yankee Institute reported that 1,223 state employees are paid more than $150,000 per year, the salary paid to the governor. Predictably enough, nearly half those spectacular salaries go to employees of the University of Connecticut or its perennially money-losing Health Center in Farmington, where nonprofit status and spectacular salaries long have resided together happily.

While UConn’s new vice president for publicity is being paid $228,000 per year, $78,000 more than the governor and $39,000 more than the state budget director, this has not deterred the university from pleading poverty or the administration from proposing to bestow another $2 billion on the university for empire building.

Of course high salaries in government beget high pensions, and the Yankee Institute also reported a few weeks ago that 525 retired state employees are receiving at least $100,000 annually in state pensions, 36 receiving a pension larger than the governor’s salary.

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Such excesses permeate municipal government as well.

A few years ago Manchester’s town manager retired at the ripe old age of 52 with a $90,000 pension, only to go to work as Tolland’s town manager at a salary of $120,000.

Waterbury’s police chief just retired at 47 with a pension of $81,000 while planning to get a job in police work elsewhere.

A Bridgeport police officer retired on a disability pension in 2007 only to overcome his disability enough two years later to take an officer’s job in Meriden at $70,000 per year while keeping the disability pension. A few weeks ago he had gotten on paid disability leave in Meriden as well. Of course Bridgeport is always pleading poverty too and so state government subsidizes the city enormously while asking few inconvenient questions.

Budget director Barnes isn’t the only one living a “charmed life” on the government payroll in Connecticut. Maybe it’s more charming not to notice all the others.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.