Tens of thousands of state workers earn an annual salary below the state average of roughly $43,500, but some high-echelon public employees earn six-figure salaries and can be eligible for public pensions as well.
In some cases, those salaries are $200,000 to $300,000 and even higher, the Florida Phoenix found in a review of more than 100,000 state employee salaries in state agencies and departments.
Those high-salaried employees are somewhat akin to the “one percent” that became a political movement surrounding the concentration of wealth in America.
The top earners in Florida’s state agencies are usually in fields of medicine, law and finance, which can be lucrative even in the public sector, state data show.
The high salaries are particularly significant because taxpayer dollars, with some exceptions, largely fund state employee salaries.
In a broad look at the statewide payroll, the Phoenix also found that high salaries exist in at least a half-dozen state departments and agencies that have fewer than about 225 employees, including the tiny Department of Citrus, based in Bartow, which is down to 24 full-time staffers, state data show.
That raises questions about whether the state could consider consolidating small agencies with other departments, to save money and potentially get rid of duplicative positions, such as high-paying, top executive employees.
Governor-elect Ron DeSantis is considering who should be in top posts at the various departments and agencies and how much they should earn. How everything will play out isn’t clear.
But on the campaign trail, DeSantis touted a platform to “Keep Florida’s Bureaucracy in Check,” saying “Government plays a necessary role in our lives, but that role should be limited. Florida’s state agencies must run efficiently and effectively.”
In addition, his campaign platform said, “Bureaucracy has the unique ability to run amok and grow unless it is monitored and kept in check. Government should not grow unless the needs of the state demand it. As Governor, Ron DeSantis will ensure our state government, which operates on tax dollars, is run efficiently and serves the needs of Floridians, not the interests of a bureaucrat.”
Average salaries by state agencies are wide apart
The Phoenix calculated average salaries for 34 agencies, departments, commissions and other entities listed in state data provided by the state Department of Management Services. It’s posted on the Florida Has a Right to Know state website.
The averages are based on employees who are salaried and work fulltime. (Some employees work part-time or get paid by hourly rates, so that data was not included.)
The result was a picture of haves and have nots in the statewide public payroll system.
The department with the highest average salary was $96,075, at the State Board of Administration, which manages billions in retirement pensions and investments in Florida and handles other major finance matters. It’s not uncommon for portfolio managers, administrators and other employees to earn annual salaries of $200,000 or more, according to the data.
In contrast, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities had the lowest average salary, $33,744. There, certified nursing assistants and “human services” workers, for example, earn about $22,000, or less.
The data shows that other agencies with the lowest average salaries in state government often work with vulnerable or troubled populations.
Those salary averages are: The Department of Veterans’ Affairs ($35,298); Department of Juvenile Justice ($35,966); Department of Children and Families ($37,136), and the Department of Corrections ($37,236).
Following the State Board of Administration’s figure, the highest average salaries for other agencies and departments are: the State Courts System that includes Florida Supreme Court Justices and other judges and legal employees ($72,841); the Department of Citrus ($69,470); the Division of Administrative Hearings ($64,139); the Agency for State Technology ($62,242); and the Executive Office of the Governor ($59,994).
Gov. Rick Scott, who is extraordinarily wealthy, has declined to take a state salary. In the data, his salary is listed as 12 cents.
Highest salaries for individual state employees
Overall, the Phoenix found 2,358 full-time, salaried state agency employees earning $100,000 or more, about 2.4 percent of all salaried employees listed in the data. Of those, 1,010 earned $150,000 or more.
Only three dozen earned $200,000 or more.
Kurt Wenner, vice president of research at the Florida TaxWatch organization in Tallahassee, say those very high government salaries are essentially outliers.
“I think when you start getting up to $200,000, those are special circumstances, Wenner said. He added, “I don’t think Florida salaries are generally out of whack with other states.”
Recent news accounts have reported a state government salary of $867,000 for a California chief investment officer, and a doctor in Ohio earning nearly $600,000 at a state department related to mental health.
At Florida’s State Board of Administration, executive director Ashbel Williams Jr. posted $455,000 in base salary in the state data.
But spokesman John Kuczwanski said that salary went up recently, to $525,000. In addition, Williams can get incentive pay that could add to his base salary. And as a state employee, he is eligible for a state pension.
Kuczwanski said the recent increase for Williams is in step with the market and peers elsewhere who manage major public pension funds.
Top earners also include Carolyn Drazinic, chief of medical services at the Department of Children and Families, with a salary of about $317,000, and Pam Stewart, Florida’s Education Commissioner, who posted a salary of $276,000. Charles Canady, Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, reported a salary of $220,600, with several other justices earning the same.
As Education Commissioner, Stewart was one of the highest-paid state school superintendents in the country.
This week, she tendered a letter of resignation, saying she plans to retire.
Governor-elect DeSantis has recommended that former House Speaker Richard Corcoran be appointed as Education Commissioner. It’s not clear what Corcoran would earn if approved by the State Board of Education.
To look at and download public agency salaries, go on the Florida Has a Right to Know website: