What do Sacramento public employees really earn?

Bites looks at paydays. Plus, Sacramento Bee kudos and cheap shots.

Sacramento-area public employees are wildly overpaid, according to a new study released over Christmas break by the California Policy Center.

Lots of California news outlets took the bait, implying or outright complaining that local government workers unfairly make way more than their private-sector counterparts.

“California municipal workers regularly taking home six-figure salaries,” gasped Sacramento talk station KFBK. In the story, California Policy Center’s president Mark Bucher called public paychecks “unaffordable.” In other stories it was “shocking.”

Meh. As with most reports of this sort, the information underneath the talking points is more interesting.

First, when you look at the data collected (www.transparentcalifornia.com), it turns out average salaries for full-time Sacramento-area local-government employees are about $70,000. It’s only once you add in pensions and benefits that average total compensation gets up around $100,000.

Most careful studies generally find that when you make apples-to-apples comparisons, looking at specific occupations, public employees tend to make a little less than their private-sector counterparts in take-home pay, and then pull about even or slightly ahead when pensions and other benefits are added in. No big surprise there.

And of course public employees are going to make more money on average. City payrolls in particular are dominated by public-safety spending. That means salaries and benefits for cops and firefighters. How many private-sector firefighters do you know?

More interesting to Bites is what happens when you start sorting the data by city. You might assume that the city of Sacramento, where the power of public-employee unions is virtually unchecked, we’re told, would offer the fattest pay packages.

But the suburban (and more Republican) jurisdictions of Roseville, Elk Grove, Folsom and Rocklin are actually far more generous. Roseville is tops; the median total compensation (pay and benefits) for city workers there is $125,000. In Sacramento it’s $92,000. That’s 14th out of 26 cities in the Sacramento area, and less than any large city in the region.

Make no mistake, Bites hates it when city bureaucrats take generous piles of public money and then treat the public with contempt. That happens way too much.

But Bites suspects some folks want to keep us agitated about the size of government worker paychecks, instead of agitating about our own.

Speaking of working for the man: You may have noticed that Bites has, on occasion, been a bit frustrated by the coverage by The Sacramento Bee. A lot of the time, they seem to think their job is to amplify whatever message is coming out of City Hall or the Metro Chamber, rather than challenge it.

That said, Bites appreciated Bee reporter Cynthia Hubert’s account of the “Last Days of the Hotel Marshall.” It’s a well-crafted, say-what-you-see story of one of downtown’s last “single room occupancy” hotels. Her writing, and Renée Byer’s candid photos, give us an up-close look at the lives of the real people affected by the downtown real-estate shuffle.

Hubert hints at what SN&R writer Dave Kempa reported a couple years back, about how the hotel’s owner Peter Noack let the Marshall deteriorate while he waited to cash in on the arena project.

And there’s a lot more to be said about who is benefiting from those downtown projects, and who is paying the costs. And about the city’s SRO policy going forward, and what’s happening to folks who are being displaced. But “Last Days” is a great contribution. More of that, Scoopy.

If Bites had a heart—instead of just a bunch of teeth—it would have to go out to now-former Secretary of State of Debra Bowen. In the fall, as her time in office was ending, she revealed that she struggled at times with “debilitating” depression, and was then in the midst of an especially severe episode.

Her struggles earned her “no free pass” from critics like the Bee editorial board. That’s fair. Early on, she steered California away from touch-screen voting systems after a review by her agency revealed security concerns. But after a strong start, Bowen was pretty quiet in the office. Critics say ineffective. Still, it seemed like a cheap shot when, after her successor Alex Padilla was elected, The Bee said the change “can’t come soon enough.”

Her exit was made even sadder when on Monday, when she posted on Facebook that she might miss her last day of work, and Gov. Jerry Brown’s State of the State address, because she had to deal with a motion her husband had filed in divorce court. Oof.

Anyway, Bites will remember Bowen for all the good things she did in office. Like safeguarding our votes from being hacked. Thanks for that, Madam Secretary. Cheers.