Mar 01, 2011 2:15 PM GMT
Wisconsin is one of 41 states where public employees earn higher average pay and benefits than private workers in the same state, a USA TODAY analysis finds. Still, the compensation of Wisconsin's government workers ranks below the national average for non-federal public employees and has increased only slightly since 2000.
The finding comes as the Midwestern state remains in the center of efforts by several governors to reduce budget shortfalls in part by requiring state and local government workers to pay more for health and retirement benefits.
The standoff reaches a crucial point today when Republican Gov. Scott Walker presents a proposed budget for the year beginning July 1. He says layoffs of state workers may begin if the Legislature does not adopt his proposal to curb collective-bargaining rights of public workers and require them to pay a higher share of the cost of benefits.
The analysis of government data found that public employees' compensation has grown faster than the earnings of private workers since 2000. Primary cause: the rising value of benefits.
Wisconsin is typical. State, city and school district workers earned an average of $50,774 in wages and benefits in 2009, about $1,800 more than in the private sector. The state ranked 33rd in public employee compensation among the states and Washington, D.C. It had ranked 20th in 2000.
In contrast, California's public employees enjoyed soaring compensation throughout that state's decade-long budget crisis.
The analysis included full and part-time workers and did not adjust for specific jobs, age, education or experience. In an earlier job-to-job comparison, USA TODAY found that state and local government workers make about the same salary as those in the private sector but get more generous benefits.
Economist Jeffrey Keefe of the liberal Economic Policy Institute says the analysis is misleading because it doesn't reflect factors such as education that result in higher pay for public employees.
Key state-by-state findings:
•California. Public employee compensation rose 28% above the inflation rate from 2000 to 2009 to an average of $71,385 in 2009.
•Nevada. Government employees earned an average of $17,815 more — or 35% — than private workers, the nation's biggest pay gap. The state's low-paying private jobs in tourism were the cause, says Bob Potts of the Center for Business and Economic Research at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
•Texas. The state ranked last in benefits for public employees. The state hasn't granted cost-of-living increases to most retirees since 2001.
Some states that limit the right of public employees to unionize — such as Texas, Georgia and Virginia — pay less in compensation than the private sector. Massachusetts and New Hampshire generally permit unions but pay less than the private sector in those high-income states.