| August 29, 2013

OCPA fellow explains ‘how something like this happens’

“Sixteen high-ranking employees of the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education already earning more than $100,000 a year received hefty increases thanks to a recently OK’d 5-percent pay hike package,” Patrick B. McGuigan reports for Oklahoma Watchdog. It’s not the first time McGuigan has reported on hefty salaries in Oklahoma’s higher education system.

In a recent column (“Calling out the miscreants”), OCPA research fellow Andrew Spiropoulos pronounced it “outrageous” that the regents would give their employees, “including some of the most highly compensated people in state government, 5-percent raises.”

The favored few aren’t woefully paid teaching faculty members or adjuncts who keep the enterprise afloat for starvation wages, but bureaucrats whom most students will never encounter. The regents decided to give these people, even those with six-figure salaries, more money at a time when almost all state government employees haven’t had a raise in years and private universities have cut jobs and employees’ pay.”

How does something like this happen? You must understand who these people are. My last year working for Todd Hiett, then state speaker of the House, I was involved in budget negotiations with Senate Democrats. We had massive revenue surpluses. Our priorities were cutting taxes and increasing transportation funding. We asked Senate Democrats to tell us their first priority.

What do you think that was? Pay raises for hardworking and lowly paid state employees? Aid for the poor? Nope. It was more money for higher education. We were floored. Then we thought about it. Senate Democrats were facing a deserved political exile at the hands of the voters. They needed a cushy place to land and knew that higher education was insulated from political control. We are cursed with an antiquated and absurd higher education governance structure put in place to hamstring the Alfalfa Bill Murrays. This structure prevents the governor and Legislature from controlling the state regents’ budget. The soon-to-be ex-politicians and their senior staff decamped for the regents, where they are still on the public payroll.

And why aren’t Oklahoma’s elected political leaders calling out the miscreants, Spiropoulos asks. “One suspects they hope to share the pork someday.”

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