PennLive’s annual scorecard highlighting a growing number of state government employees earning six figures frustrated some readers because they couldn’t readily identify a problem or a villain.

In online comments, most didn’t launch into a rant about overpaid government employees but instead debated whether paying high salaries to more people matters.

The muted reaction to the objective fact that the $100k Club has grown significantly may be partly a result of the recent federal government shutdown, which was a reminder that many government employees work hard like the rest of us and at times struggle to make ends meet. Moreover, they do jobs we depend on, for instance ensuring food safety and processing our tax refunds.

It’s true there isn’t an obvious outrage or villain in this year’s $100k Club accounting. But since these folks are working on the public’s dime — their salaries contribute the overall cost of government in Pennsylvania (and dent your take-home pay) — taxpayers should be interested in, if not concerned about, a pattern of growth.

And state employees are just part of the tab for public employment — there are also federal, county and municipal employees.

Among PennLive’s findings for 2018:

• The number of state employees making over $100k (9,071) is up 9 percent over the prior year and up 18 percent since Gov. Tom Wolf took office in 2015.

• Roughly 1 in 10 state employees earned over $100k in 2018, up from 1 in 13 the previous year.

• The percentage growth in $100k earners on the state’s payroll appears to be higher than that of Pennsylvania taxpayers with incomes of $100,000, according labor economist Mark Price from the Keystone Research Center.

All of which deserves closer scrutiny because — it bears repeating — it’s your money.

Reporter Jan Murphy noted, “All of the earnings are paid with public funds. The source of that money may include tax dollars, agency earnings, fines, and federal funds, to name a few.”

A case can be made for having fewer state employees and paying at least some of them more, especially in categories critical to public health and safety. However without even delving into that, there are obvious ways to save:

• End policies allowing state employees to accumulate unused paid leave and carry it over each year. Private employers long ago instituted “use it or lose it” policies, and there’s no reason state employees should have this perk. From an accounting standpoint, it’s a big liability.

• Every year, as private companies do, re-examine the benefits we provide to public employees, not to mention elected officials (a whole other story). That should include reviewing benefit options, co-pays and contributions (employees can contribute more if they want more). Maybe someday we’ll have rational health care funding, but until then public employees should receive benefits commensurate with those of most taxpayers.

• Be vigilant about controlling overtime costs.

• Root out red tape and departmental inefficiencies, and you might need fewer employees.

• Track the effectiveness and need for contract employees and consultants.

State government administrators and elected officials (who are themselves beneficiaries of our largesse) owe it to us to demonstrate that they are spending every public-employment dime wisely.

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