Payroll data compiled by Bloomberg on 1.4 million public employees in the 12 most populous states show that California has set a pattern of lax management, inefficient operations and out-of-control costs. From coast to coast, states are cutting funding for schools, public safety and the poor as they struggle with fallout left by politicians who made pay-and-pension promises that taxpayers couldn’t afford.
“It was completely avoidable,” said David Crane, a public-policy lecturer at Stanford University.
“All it took was for political leaders to think more about the general population and the future, rather than their political futures,” said Crane, a Democrat who worked as an economic adviser to former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. “Citizens should be mad as hell, and they shouldn’t take it anymore.”
The story of one prison psychiatrist shows how pay largesse has spread.
Mohammad Safi, graduate of a medical school in Afghanistan, collected $822,302 last year, up from $90,682 when he started in 2006, the data show. Safi was placed on administrative leave in July and is under investigation by the Department of State Hospitals, formerly the Department of Mental Health.
The doctor was paid for an average of almost 17 hours each day, including on-call time and Saturdays and Sundays, although he did take time off, said David O’Brien, a spokesman for the department. In a brief interview outside his home in Newark, California, Safi said he’d been placed on leave for working too many hours and declined to comment further. An increase in the number of beds at the facility where Safi worked forced him to cover more shifts, and he was allowed to do some of the work from home, said his lawyer, Ed Caden.
Safi and other psychiatrists employed by the state benefited from what amounted to a 2007 bidding war between California’s prisons and mental health departments, after a series of federal court orders forced the state to improve its inmate care. Higher pay in the prison system was matched by mental health, and as psychiatrists followed larger salaries, the state’s cost to provide the care soared.
Last year, 16 psychiatrists on California’s payroll, including Safi, made more than $400,000. Only one did in any other state in the data compiled by Bloomberg, a doctor in Texas. Safi earned more than twice as much as any state psychiatrist elsewhere, the data show.
“I made so much because I work a lot,” Safi said in a brief interview at his Newark, California, home.
Last year, he took home $822,302, all of it paid by taxpayers.