Any questions as to why California is going broke?
California Highway Patrol division chief Jeff Talbott retired last year as the best-paid officer in the 12 most-populous U.S. states, collecting $483,581 in salary, pension and other compensation.
Talbott, 53, received $280,259 for accrued leave and vacation time and took a new job running the public-safety department at a private university in Southern California. He also began collecting an annual pension of $174,888 from the state.
Union-negotiated benefits, coupled with overtime that can exceed regular pay and lax enforcement of limits on accumulating unused vacation, allow some troopers to double their annual earnings and retire as young as age 50. The payments they get are unmatched by those elsewhere, according to data compiled by Bloomberg on 1.4 million employees of the 12 states. Some, like Talbott, go on to second careers.
“I think some of our rules were negligent, and I think people were allowed to build up overtime pay who shouldn’t have been, who accumulated leave time and furlough time,” said Marty Morgenstern, a member of Governor Jerry Brown’s cabinet and secretary of the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency, which oversees labor relations, employment and unemployment.
“Those kind of payments are absolutely inappropriate and we’re doing everything we can to see that does not recur,” Morgenstern said.
Brown, a 74-year-old Democrat, hasn’t curbed overtime expenses that lead the 12 biggest states or limited payouts for accumulated vacation time that allowed one employee to claim a $609,000 check last year for accrued leave at retirement. California’s liability for the unused leave of its state workers has more than doubled in eight years, to $3.9 billion in 2011, from $1.4 billion in 2003, according to the state’s annual financial reports.
While more than 5,000 California troopers made at least $100,000 in 2011, only three in North Carolina did, the data show. Talbott’s $483,581 in total pay -- adding six months of his $174,888 annual pension, based on his June 30, 2011, retirement date -- is almost four times as much as the $122,950 collected by the top-paid officer in North Carolina, a commander, the data show. Talbott declined a request to be interviewed, said Patty Zurita, communications manager at the University of the Redlands in Redlands, California, where he now works.
Let's take a peek at some individual stories, shall we?
Connie and Vincent Lambres, who were husband-and-wife highway patrol sergeants in Sacramento County, collected $745,947 in overtime from 2005 through 2011, data provided by the state show. Connie Lambres retired last year with a lump-sum payout of $64,729 and Vincent retired in 2010, collecting a lump-sum payout of $132,283 and another $45,727 in 2011. Reached by telephone, Vincent Lambres declined to comment.
Two other retiring officers last year, including Talbott, received portions of their regular salary, checks for unused vacation time and the first installments of lifetime annual pensions, even as they took new jobs outside government. Their earnings of about $484,000 and $392,000, including pensions, compared with about $276,400 in pay and retirement benefits for the top trooper outside California, a retiring officer in Pennsylvania, John Rice. Rice, who took another job as safety director for a regional bus company, didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.
Besides Talbott, 44 California patrol officers earned more than $200,000 in 2011, compared with nine in other states - five in Pennsylvania and four in Illinois, according to the data.
California Highway Patrol officers earned $82.4 million in overtime last year, almost triple the $27.5 million overtime paid in Texas, the second most-populous U.S. state. California Officer Bryce Perry topped the list with $93,795 in overtime, nearly as much as his $96,105 regular salary. Perry didn’t respond to messages left at his home seeking comment.
Good thing those Unions are still around to keep a "living wage" for our Public Servants.