(The Center Square) – Public employee salaries in Pennsylvania have increased each of the past three years, even as the number of employees decreased between 2017 and 2019.

On average, state employees make about $60,497, according to an analysis by The Center Square of data from Open The Books. A state report pegs the average annual salary of full-time salaried employees at $58,332 as of July 2019.

Regardless, that is higher than the annual mean wage of Pennsylvanians of about $51,340 in May 2019, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Overall, state government wages grew by about 5 percent between 2017 and 2019.

The Open The Books data reveals 6,732 state employees who make more than $100,000 per year and 11 state employees who make $300,000 or more. The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education has the most employees making six figures with about 1,800, followed by Pennsylvania State Police with more than 1,400 employees.

While the average salary has increased from about $57,203 in 2017 and about $58,880 in 2018, the number doesn’t include the cost of benefits, which totals about $46,000 per state worker, including $18,500 in pension costs.

While the average salary has increased from about $57,203 in 2017 and about $58,880 in 2018, the number doesn’t include the cost of benefits, which totals about $46,000 per state worker, including $18,500 in pension costs, according to Nathan Benefield, vice president and chief operating officer of the Commonwealth Foundation. That is about $15,000 more per state worker than an average 401(k) would cost, he added.

“State government has been significantly increasing its total compensation for state employees for years, especially since [Gov. Tom] Wolf took office,” Benefield said in an email.

“This shows that the claim that state employees make less than private sector peers – a claim used in contract negotiations – is a myth,” Benefield said. “As of 2019, average total compensation [including salary and benefits] for a Pennsylvania state employee is $104,506.”

The Commonwealth Foundation recently conducted its own analysis of the employment costs of state employees. It found salaries grew by 45.3 percent between 2000-01 and 2018-19, while benefits grew by 263.3 percent during the same period and 104.1 percent over the past decade, outpacing the benefit growth of private-sector employees.

Wages for state employees has caught the attention of lawmakers. This year, the House Republican Caucus placed a freeze on hiring and froze its employees’ salaries for at least one year.

Additionally, House Bill 2487, sponsored by state Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, would freeze cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for many state government officials – including department heads and members of boards and commissions – through 2021. The bill now heads to the governor.

“This is the right and appropriate action at this time,” Ryan said in a statement. “Many Pennsylvania citizens are suffering from job losses and struggling to get by. The pandemic is also taking a tremendous toll on state revenue, which will impact state budgets for years to come. We are committed to sharing in the sacrifices to restore financial stability to our citizens and our Commonwealth as we prepare to face the very difficult fiscal challenges ahead.”

The state’s highest-paid employee works for the Public School Employees’ Retirement System, where 57 employees make $100,000 or more, according to data from Open The Books.

Benefield said if the state eliminated its teachers’ pension system and switched to a 401(k)-type retirement similar to the private sector, the government would save enough money to give teachers in Pennsylvania an average raise of $15,000 per year.

“COVID or not, state government needs to take a serious look at redefining the pay [and] benefits package for state employees across the board,” Benefield said. “There has been some pension reform, but more needs to be done there. That includes reassessing health care benefits, retiree health care, paid time off, and moving towards more merit-based pay.

“Salaries and raises aren’t based on performance or merit, but in almost all cases, on seniority,” Benefield added. “This means there’s no incentive in government to do a better job. This partly explains why there is so much less turnover in government jobs.”

Todd DeFeo is a contributor for The Center Square.

This piece was originally published in The Center Square. Read the original article here.

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